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Featured Interview: Pablo Ruz Salmones


Today we feature an interview with Pablo Ruz Salmones. Ruz Salmones is the CEO of X eleva Group, a software development and consulting start-up headquartered in Mexico City. He has spoken on topics including e-commerce and AI ethics on Mexican radio and television shows. He has published at Enterprising Investor with the CFA Institute, he is a Hackers/Founders chapter organizer, and a contributing fellow for AI&Faith. He is also a pianist and concert performer.

How would you describe your experience with AI?

My experience with AI can be described as a relationship with developers work on AI. Asking about my experience with AI is like asking about my experience with bridges. I would say they are useful in helping you cross rivers, but I would not consider using a bridge a meaningful experience. Obviously, I find AI fascinating, which is why I lead an AI company. The discipline is fascinating because of the people behind it, and the foundations, both philosophical and mathematical, behind it. In many of the debates around AI, the focus is on what AI is capable of, and overlooks the people behind the scenes who are creating these systems.

We tend to quickly forget that the things we create exist, precisely because we created them. For example, it is more common to wonder how fast a car can go, versus wondering how fast a racer could drive it. In most cases, such a distinction is unimportant. I would disagree in the case of AI, mostly because its name carries a significant weight. Intelligence is a concept that has not been assigned to other non-living or spiritual beings before, at least not in the widespread way in which we are currently doing it. I first realized this when I enrolled in an AI course at the University of Otago in New Zealand in 2017 as an exchange student. In that class we developed genetic algorithms to help virtual creatures survive longer in a Pac-Man like environment. Many of the non-engineers were amazed by the results, but only because they had not been involved in its creation and were more likely to think of this as a computer displaying signs of intelligence. “How does it know what to do?” was a common question. Of course, the AI does not truly “know” anything, but the sole use of the word “know” made it clear what direction we were heading as a society with respect to this technology.

Around this time, I was studying business engineering in Mexico, and afterwards decided I wanted to study computer engineering also. I wanted to learn more about everything behind AI, so I pursued a double major. As dug deeper, I enrolled in a data science course at Carnegie Mellon University. It was during this class that I started to seriously question the implications AI could have in the world. I have found brilliant people working in the field of AI, but many are only brilliant in that field. Many geniuses in a field are unable to grasp basic realities outside their purview. I have met others who are so afraid of AI that they believe it should be banned completely and want to know nothing about it. Many others, of which I have found many here in AI and Faith, understand that it is a matter of balance. Those are the ones I have had the best experiences with.

How would you describe your faith background?

I have always believed in God as omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, and the reason behind goodness in the world. My belief, however, has often not been accompanied by practicing a specific religion. Throughout my life, it has been through music that I have felt closer to Him. I believe many composers and musicians have felt similarly. It is when I am playing Schubert, Liszt, Chopin, Beethoven, or any of the great composers that I am reminded of His existence.

In a more formal religious sense, Mexico is mostly a Catholic country. However, the only time I felt close to a Catholic community was not in Mexico, but in New Zealand, where I was part of the music group at Saint Joseph’s Cathedral. I attended mass every Sunday and enjoyed it very much. This was the first time I found a spiritual connection, outside of music, to God and religion that stood apart. I cherish those moments and have come to realize the wonders that good religious communities could offer.

When I came back to Mexico, though I brought those memories with me, I failed to find such a community here. The Catholic church in Mexico has been associated with wrong-doing, particularly related to pederasty, which prevents me from feeling close to it. Knowingly hurting children, and knowingly covering it up, is simply evil. Despite this, I decided I was not going to allow the spiritual connection I had discovered in New Zealand to fade away. So I started digging deeper into various religious teachings. I had been introduced to Aquinas during my first semester of college, so I started rereading the Aquinas’s Summa Theologica, and I have kept rereading it ever since. Rereading Aquinas fills my spirit and renews my curiosity for the questions of God, life, and meaning. I believe in God simply because it is the most beautiful thing one could think of, and I like believing in beautiful things.

What led to your interest in the intersection of AI and faith?

The foundational questions of existence and humanity can only be answered by mixing the unmixable. I have encountered philosophers that consider everything to be philosophy, and physicists who consider everything to be physics. Yet both specialists fall short when trying to describe why the music of Rachmaninoff is better than mine. Even though Rachmaninoff’s music is clearly superior, a clear explanation from physics and philosophy does not exist.

The sense of oneness I have felt in my life has always allowed me to confidently claim that all disciplines are interrelated, and that the only way to examine the whole of human knowledge is through the lens of the whole itself. As Terence said, “nothing human is alien to me”. AI has posed some of the most fascinating questions we have faced so far, and I want to be part of that conversation. I think there is much I can contribute such that in a few years, when our relationship with AI has evolved, I want to wake up and say, “I helped create this”, or alternatively, but less desirable, “I told you so”.

Why are you involved with AI&F?

I am always on the lookout for interdisciplinary organizations because I believe I can contribute more, and I feel more welcome as well. A few months ago, I was doing some research to speak on a TV show on the intersection of technology and religion. I found the New York Times article about AI and Faith, and after reading more about the organization, I decided to reach out. A few weeks later I got an interview with David Brenner and began as an advisor.

After meeting some of the wonderful people who are part of this organization, I decided to stick around. My relationship with AI, as with faith, has mostly been determined by the people behind it. I believe wonderful people are the right path to a wonderful life. People conversant in a wide range of topics is rare. With many people I can speak of God, with others of music, with others of computer science, with others of business, and so on. Rarely do I find those with whom I can speak about all of this simultaneously.

How does AI&F affect your work outside the organization?

AI&F has allowed me to grow both personally and professionally. On a personal level, I have found a place that has reassured my conviction that humans are fascinating. I am encouraged to look beyond the everyday, searching for great people who may come from any background. It was a relief to know that there were many people who, like me, were thinking of at the intersection of these two fascinating fields, and that my time thinking about these issues is not in vain.

On a professional level, it has allowed me to broaden my perspective and thoughts on these matters, and comment on the same on the different shows and podcasts I am invited to. Now that I am getting more involved with AI and Faith, I am also looking forward to establishing more relationships with the wonderful members of this organization.

What open problems in AI are you most interested in?

In Summa Theologica, Aquinas states that “Every science is contained in its principles”. This quotation encapsulates well what I have long considered: if we truly understand the foundations of any system, we will be able to explore its limits. I learned similar concepts in my foundational computer science courses in college, where we talked about mathematicians like Gödel and Turing. I am always looking forward to exploring the meaning of these principles. Ethics is an area that I find most fascinating, though other more technical matters such as the creation of music with AI and the different techniques used to do so also catch my attention.


A big thanks to Pablo Ruz Salmones for his time to carry out this interview. Thanks to Marcus Schwarting and Emily Wenger for proofreading, editing, and publishing this work.

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