Lead data scientist at Axians Portugal and AI coach at Leonard, João Guarda strives to display four key qualities – curiosity, creativity, humility and perseverance – while carrying out his work responsibly and seeking to have a positive impact on people’s lives and the planet.
Far removed from the alarmist narratives and, conversely, the overly favourable reviews about artificial intelligence, João Guarda knows the limits of AI and is aware how much responsibility it entails. Lead data scientist at Axians Portugal, at 27 he is among those who are shaping this new technology.
“When you work in AI, you constantly need to consider the ethics and implications of what you’re doing,” says the young Portuguese engineer. “In time, AI applications will have a bearing on all our everyday tools. So it’s very important to ensure privacy protection, a condition for the acceptance of the opportunities offered by AI.”
This responsible approach and the awareness-raising work involved is something that João Guarda has been putting into practice as part of his new role. In October 2022, he joined the AI programme’s coaching team. Run by Leonard, VINCI’s innovation platform, the programme helps Group entities to design and develop AI projects.
“Until May 2023, I’ll be performing two roles at Leonard. The first involves training the employees of VINCI’s various business units in AI. The second focuses on a research project led by a Group entity that aims to link AI and observation of the planet.”
The programme, which is “still at an exploratory stage,” fills him with enthusiasm. “It’s very exciting! It’s like constantly walking a ridge. You have to keep questioning yourself. And I’m learning a lot about how satellites work.”
Qualities and skills
João Guarda has always enjoyed the diversity of the projects and sectors in which he works at Axians. “But with Leonard, the more international aspect of the work opens up new horizons,” he says.
“When you work in AI, you constantly need to consider the ethics and implications of what you’re doing”
The VINCI Group innovation platform also gives him the opportunity to further develop the four main qualities that he believes are required in his job as data scientist: “curiosity, which you need if you are to get to grips with the various techniques and industries in which we work; creativity, which is essential in order to keep coming up with new ideas to test; humility, without which it’s difficult to challenge solutions that work but that don’t fully meet client needs; and finally perseverance, since you have to keep at it even if you experience setbacks.”
These qualities have enabled him to excel in a role that requires a range of different skills. “First, you have to be able to identify AI use cases through needs expressed by business lines or sectors. You then have to move onto the project implementation phase, creating a model based on an analysis of pre-cleaned and prepared data. Last but not least, you need to be skilled in forming and leading a team internally and with the client so as to complete the project.”
Impact on everyday life
One of the tasks he was involved in is particularly important to him: the creation of an application to detect the signs of a heart attack or of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). “The AI-based remote monitoring app measures several physiological parameters (blood pressure, weight, cough, etc.), making it possible to forewarn patients and their doctors of a possible attack a week before it takes place,” explains João Guarda.
It was mainly the positive impact that AI can have on people’s everyday lives that motivated João Guarda, then a student at Porto University’s faculty of engineering, to decide to focus on this field.
“AI can help achieve small things, like automating tedious tasks, as well as big things by optimising energy consumption or reducing paper use for example.” These are just some of the innovations that João Guarda intends to contribute towards in the next few years at Axians, even if it interferes with his passion for watching football matches on television, especially those of FC Porto.
Photo credit: ©Pau Storch