Four AI pioneers win top Spanish science prize

Four scientists considered pioneers in the field of artificial intelligence, including two Britons and one Canadian, were on Wednesday awarded Spain's prestigious Princess of Asturias prize for scientific research.

Four AI pioneers win top Spanish science prize
Spain's King Felipe VI delivers a speech during the 2021 Princess of Asturias award ceremony. (Photo by ANDER GILLENEA / AFP)

The jury honoured Britain’s Geoffrey Hinton and Demis Hassabis along with France’s Yann LeCun and Canada’s Yoshua Bengio for their “contributions to the advancement of artificial intelligence and its full integration in society.”

“Their contributions to the development of ‘deep learning’ have led to major advances in techniques as diverse as speech recognition… object perception, machine translation, strategy optimisation, the analysis of protein structure, medical diagnosis and many others,” it said.

Hinton and Bengio were already honoured with in 2018 with the Turing Award, which is sometimes referred to as “the Nobel Prize of computing”.

Deep learning involves building computer programmes that loosely mimic the structure of animal brains, with many layers of artificial neurons that process data.

It is seen as a promising tool for the development of self-driving cars and other futuristic technologies.

The 50,000-euro ($52,000) award is one of eight Asturias prizes handed out every year by a foundation named after Crown Princess Leonor.

Other categories include social sciences, sport and scientific research.

The awards are presented each autumn in the northern city of Oviedo in a ceremony broadcast live on Spanish television.

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Oldest European human fossil possibly found in Spain

A jawbone fragment discovered in northern Spain last month could be the oldest known fossil of a human ancestor found to date in Europe, Spanish paleontologists said Friday.

Oldest European human fossil possibly found in Spain

The researchers said the fossil found at an archaeological site on June 30 in northern Spain’s Atapuerca mountain range is around 1.4 million years old.

Until now, the oldest hominid fossil found in Europe was a jawbone found at the same site in 2007 which was determined to be 1.2 million years old.

Atapuerca contains one of the richest records of prehistoric human occupation in Europe. Researchers will now have to “complete” their first estimate for the age of the jawbone fragment using scientific dating techniques, palaeoanthropologist Jose-Maria Bermudez de Castro, the co-director of the Atapuerca research project, said during a news conference.

But since the jawbone fragment was found some two metres below the layer of earth where the jawbone in 2007 was found, “it is logical and reasonable to think it is older,” he added.

The scientific dating of the jawbone fragment will be carried out at the National Centre for Research on Human Evolution in Burgos, a city located about 10 kilometres (six miles) from Atapuerca.

The process should take between six to eight months to complete, Bermudez de Castro said. The analysis could help identify which hominid species the jawbone fragment belongs to and better understand the human beings evolved on the European continent.

Scientists have so far been unable to determine with certainty which species the jawbone discovered in 2007 belonged to.

The fossil could correspond to the species called Homo antecessor, discovered in the 1990s.

The Atapuerca Foundation which runs the archaeological site said in a statement that is “very likely” that the jawbone fragment “belongs to one of the first populations that colonised Europe”.

The archaeological site of Atapuerca was in 2000 included on UNESCO’s list of world heritage sites, giving it access to United Nations conservation funding.

It contains thousands of hominid fossils and tools including a flint discovered in 2013 that is 1.4 million years old.