VPRI looking to engage in collegial conversation around Artificial Intelligence

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is of great interest to the research world today, potentially driving innovative problem-solving. Both the federal and provincial governments have imagined this potential. The Ontario government has invested in the Vector Institute for Artificial Intelligence, a flagship of its development in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) to make Ontario a source of high-quality professionals and to attract an industrial base of the information technology (IT) and the AI sectors. The Ministry of Research, Innovation & Science is also commissioning a report to develop a provincial strategy.

York has interdisciplinary strengths that give the University a unique ability to engage in AI in a holistic manner, to provide a broader perspective including its impacts on humanity and society

On the federal side, Ottawa has invested $120 million of direct support and $36 million has been allocated for Vector AI chairs for existing and newly recruited individuals. There is also the AI supercluster, in which the federal government is determined to utilize the country’s top research resources.

VRPI starts ongoing discussion on development and application of AI

Recognizing the many Faculties that are currently doing research and pedagogy in AI, Vice-President Research & Innovation Robert Haché invited a highly interdisciplinary team of York University researchers and academics to begin an ongoing conversation about AI late last year. He emphasized that the provincial and federal investments represent a stellar opportunity for the University to engage in the development and application of AI – a sentiment that was also enthusiastically shared by faculty members at the meeting.

Robert Haché

“Given York’s interdisciplinary strengths, we have a unique ability to engage in AI in a holistic manner, to provide a broader perspective including impacts on humanity and society, in addition to the core technology and questions around technology adoption. This unique expertise of York is reflected in the disciplines of participants at the table today,” Haché said at the meeting.

A vast array of expertise and interest was discussed included engineering, computer vision, robotics, mathematics, community and global health, healthcare technology, IT, philosophy, digital arts, gaming in education, finance and investment.

It was clear that participants in the discussion agreed that York has great potential to be a leading member in provincial and federal investments, noting our diverse expertise, ranging from philosophical theories, ethical implications, societal/social context to AI, and biological, computing, engineering and health applications.

Key discussion topics going forward include:

  • AI represents the convergence of AI biologics, genetic manipulation and robotics; and its implications on individual health and human systems (social organization, ethical, moral and legal framework).
  • Machine learning is a broad enough term that will allow opportunities to engage with diverse forms of engineering and science.
  • AI ask big questions, such as What constitutes intelligence? and Do we want machines to be more optimal or to have more human intelligence?
  • Humanists and social scientists, computer scientists, neuroscientists and psychologists need to be involved in this discussion.
  • The ethical and philosophical aspects and social implications of AI are very important, as well as legalities.
  • Global health and AI are very important. Experts in this area need to be part of the discussion.
  • Economics needs to be a large part of future discussions because the labour market is where the most immediate impact of AI will be.
  • Who else needs to be at this table? Building an inventory of all research labs involved in AI research is desirable.

Towards an AI strategy

At York University, there is great enthusiasm to develop a formal strategy around AI, in the Strategic Research Plan and beyond. The momentum around AI is building.

Haché suggested that the strategy would need to be built from the ground up. “This has the potential to become a high-profile institutional priority, but we need to build enthusiasm amongst colleagues, with collegial contributions being key,” he said.

What’s next? A working group that is broadly constituted has been created to define positioning of the AI opportunity in a manner that builds on York University’s core values. This group will be looking for input and volunteers.

Those wanting to learn more about AI are encouraged to attend an upcoming event: Osgoode Hall Law School is hosting Bracing for Impact: The Artificial Intelligence Challenge on Feb. 2. Register today!

Additional resources at York include the Lassonde School of Engineering’s Artificial Intelligence page and Osgoode Hall Law School’s page on legal values in AI. YFile has also covered the topic of AI (example: Lassonde researchers win artificial intelligence challenge). Schulich School of Business Professor Moshe Milevsky was quoted in The Globe & Mail (Nov. 16) on the topic of AI: Artificial Intelligence – coming to an advisor near you. Schulich School of Business Professor Henry Kim was quoted in The Globe & Mail (June 5) in the article Artificial intelligence takes on white-collar duties.

For more York University news, photos and videos, visit the YFile homepage