Consider This: AI is the best reason to get curious

Thinking about what artificial intelligence means for our jobs, health, family, home and community.


What does Artificial Intelligence (AI) mean for us? As panelists at the 2022 Chancellor's Forum, we traded views on this question on May 12, 2022, but the conversation is far from over. We were impressed with ideas from the audience, and they gave us hope. At the University of Alberta and around the world, we are in the middle of figuring out what AI means for us. Bringing together each of our perspectives–across sociology, medicine, computing science and law–reminded us that we'll find a richer answer to the question if we work together. These collaborative efforts help us to dream big about what we can do with tech, and how we can dig into the details and work with people and communities to make meaningful change. When we get practical, we can save lives, reduce discrimination and bias at work, increase access to justice and use AI for good.

We ask tough questions about turning those dreams into reality. Who benefits? Who profits? Who bears the burden of mistakes and missteps? How can we ensure that people so often excluded from decision making in the current system are not on the table, but at the table — who gets included and excluded? What purposes do we want to turn the power of AI towards and what problems are we trying to solve? How do we correct mistakes or even scrap systems if they don’t work as intended? AI is something that will be made better when we bring questions and answers together to learn. We need to take a hard look at who is at the centre of this work, particularly thinking about those of us with experiences and teaching beyond the academy. 

Answering these questions, stress testing new and complex systems and involving stakeholders at each step of the way are critical to getting this work done. As the home of Amii, one of the three pan-Canadian AI strategy Institutes, the U of A is a nexus of interdisciplinary research collaborations. Whether pushing the frontiers of algorithmic effectiveness and efficiency, collecting and using data with respect to human dignity, ensuring data and learning processes are designed to avoid bias and discrimination, putting funding into the hands of marginalized groups to design tech for good or validating algorithms in the context of difficult problems across disciplines and professions, it takes a village — communities working together — to raise an AI well. 

We know there are meaningful projects underway, including:

That's why we're hopeful. Whether it's the Chancellor's Forum, the GoA's AI Lab and Digital Innovation Office, Amii or AI4Society, people from every corner of campus and beyond are starting to work together. 

In the best way, when we hear "what does AI mean for us?" we each have our stories. Some of us have decades of research, teaching and application under our belts. Yet, for all of us, the answer is: there is so much more to learn and so much more to build, and we look forward to shaping this field together and finding out with you. 

So consider this: whether you're an expert in your field or not, what you don't know is far, far greater than what you do. This is what propels our collaborative work!  

We welcome all campus community members to share stories and ideas of what AI could be, and perhaps, what it ought to be if we make innovative, ethical AI.

Learn about more projects through the AI4Society Dialogues podcast, or by contacting the AI4Society team to find out how you can showcase your project. You can also follow us on Twitter @hslaird, @Eleni_Stroulia, @UofA_Ai4Society and @DigitalLawInno1.

About Nicole

Dr. Nicole Denier is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Sociology in the Faculty of Arts. Her research focuses on the labour market as an engine and site of social transformation, with specific interest in economic disruption, labour mobility, and migration. 

About Hero

Hero Laird is a student at the University of Alberta Faculty of Law. Her work focuses on legal systems reform, access to justice and the rule of law in a digital age. Hero is a Research Assistant with the Wahkohtowin Law & Governance Lodge and the President of the Digital Law & Innovation Society

About Ross

Dr. Ross Mitchell is a professor in the Department of Medicine in the Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry, a Fellow with the Alberta Machine Intelligence Institute and the Senior Program Director of AI Adoption with Alberta Health Services. He is the inaugural AHS Chair in AI in Health at the University of Alberta. He has been working in the fields of biomedical imaging, AI and machine learning applied to healthcare for 30 years. 

About Eleni

Dr. Eleni Stroulia is Acting Vice Dean in the Faculty of Science and the Director of the AI4Society Signature Area. A professor in the Department of Computing Science, her research focuses on addressing industry-driven problems, adopting AI and machine-learning methods to improve or automate tasks.