Éric Paquet, algorithm tamer

Éric Paquet, dompteur d’algorithmes

Algorithm tamer

It is at great speed that new technologies are flooding all spheres of human activity. The deluge of terabits that they generate is such that it is difficult to harness the billions of data that come from all sides. The world of agriculture is no exception. Equipped with smartphones, drones, video cameras and a host of other devices attached to tractors and the farm, producers generate an astronomical quantity, sometimes without even realizing it.

In the biofood sector, to promote production and improve animal welfare, it has become essential to exploit these mines of information. Éric Paquet, professor of genomics and big data at the Faculty of Agricultural and Food Sciences, puts all his genius into collecting and taming these masses of information which far exceed the analysis capabilities of our neurons. It maps all available data, from the producer's field to the processing stage.

Tame is the right word, because Eric uses big computers and computer programs like a whip to train complex algorithms to use big data. This allows, for example, these mathematical critters to learn to automatically detect pathologies or monitor the behavior of animals in real time, which a human is often not able to diagnose.

In the next five years, our students will master these technologies. As agronomists, they will use this data to advise producers. Over a ten-year horizon, we would like to be able to monitor animals over a complete production cycle to be able to intervene in a predictive manner against stresses and problems, and monitor breeding conditions in real time. We want to develop tools to process more and more data. It will be less intrusive. From milk samples, for example, we can detect health problems. »

With impressive degrees and expertise in bioinformatics, systems biology, chronobiology and applied machine learning, Éric Paquet was first interested in human medicine. Using genomics to guide patient treatment, he has, among other things, contributed to the development of machine learning tools in precision medicine applied to breast and colon cancer.

What made him jump into the animal enclosure? The 41-year-old found that the impacts of animal research were more direct and less financially prohibitive.

Note that those who have always known him will not have been surprised to find him in the high spheres of technology for the benefit of animals and producers.

Growing up on a farm in Broughton, near Thetford Mines, the little guy proved to be a born “brickster”. Except for the turkeys, chickens and pigs his parents raised, he took apart and studied everything he could get his hands on. This included computers which, for as long as he could remember, had always been a presence in the home. He did not wait until adolescence before devoting himself to programming. It must be said that he has a weakness for mathematics.

That's good because the algorithms he eats today like appetizers will soon allow his super computers to develop learning and detect a health problem at the slightest movement of a calf's ear!

All this bodes well for the revision of the agronomy program at Laval University which will be offered to students from September 2022. Those who wish to immerse themselves in data analyzes will be served.

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