Did you know that Edmonton is a global hub for AI? It’s something we learned about from Nidhi Hegde and Cam Linke from Alberta Machine Intelligence Institute (Amii) during our innovation issue of Edify. As I stand inside the Amii headquarters for the Upper Bound AI conference amongst an electric crowd of the AI-curious, it’s increasingly clear that things are picking up, especially once City Councillor Anne Stevenson makes an official proclamation which states, “May 23 to 26, 2023, as AI Week in Edmonton.”
So how did we get here?
For those of you who, like me, were absent for the last two decades of AI research in this city, here is the long and short of it. Occasionally the province does something right, and its decision 20 years ago to invest in the work of four foundational researchers at the University of Alberta tipped a line of dominoes that led directly to today. Now, a large number of U of A research fellows, along with the not-for-profit organization Amii, develop breakthrough research in the field and attract global attention.
Riley Zilka, a U of A computer science student from Sylvan Lake, is at Upper Bound as part of the talent bursary. “I don’t really know entirely what it offers. I’ve never been to Amii,” says Zilka. But he agrees with the sentiment that momentum is building in Edmonton, “I’m pretty sure it’s the biggest AI conference in Canada. There are people from like 38 countries, so obviously, they’re doing something right.”
But those outside of academics are equally encouraged to participate in Upper Bound. There is programming specifically geared toward Edmonton businesses, workers and children.
“The public’s general interest in AI is getting a lot more sophisticated,” says Stephanie Enders, VP of Product for Amii. “Edmontonians are really hungry to improve their AI literacy,” which is a core principle of both Upper Bound and Amii. The slogan of the company that runs this event is “AI for good and for all,” and an important piece of this puzzle is engaging the public in AI. So how does the Upper Bound approach make AI accessible?
In true Edmonton fashion, “It’s more structured like a festival,” says Enders.
There are four ways to enjoy this festival. The first is the full pass, which includes access to all events (excluding the more knowledge-heavy academic symposium on Wednesday). The second is only available to those invited to Upper Bound, which is the Talent Bursary, and It includes access to all events but also the academic symposium. There is also an online-only pass which gives digital access to the keynotes and panels, and a free community pass.
In case you couldn’t get tickets, the community pass gives access to a ton of free events that are great for networking and experiencing the AI buzz of the city. The community events on Thursday and Friday include Zumba fitness classes at Amii HQ, tours at the U of A’s AI lab, coffee meets, beers with peers, access to Amii co-working spaces, networking parties with Edmonton Unlimited, science demonstrations for kids and even free admission to the Art Gallary of Alberta. With an AI-heavy future on the horizon, getting out into the community to learn and chat about AI is one of the best ways to get started with it.
And the focus of programming is broad. Businesses can connect with other businesses that have implemented AI into their workplace and see firsthand what these processes look like. “AI is gonna be everywhere, and it’s gonna be the primary driver of economic success and the primary driver of business success,” Amii CEO Cam Linke said during his opening keynote on Tuesday.
As mentioned before, AI literacy is another focus the public can benefit from during this conference. Each panel and keynote speech has valuable information that people can glean understanding from. Whether it’s the panel on responsible AI or catching up on five years of GPT language models, there is going to be something important for anyone. The conference is “industry agnostic,” as Enders says.
Right now is the time in which people will obtain competitive edges in technology and where people can have an effect on how policy and regulation are managed. Linke says in his keynote that “understanding the science of AI has never been more important, and there’s never been a more important time to double down on the fundamentals and the fundamental science of AI.”
Start or strengthen your AI understanding at Upper Bound AI Conference until May 26.