Schulich to launch first-of-its-kind tech MBA in Canada

concept of digital technology

York University’s Schulich School of Business announced the launch of a new MBA in Technology Leadership (Tech MBA), the first of its kind in Canada, on May 11.

The tech MBA program, launching in Fall 2023, will develop the next generation of leaders for a business world that is increasingly driven by digital technologies. The 16-month, highly experience-focused professional program will integrate leadership development with a focus on strategic thinking, systems design, digital transformation, value creation, and technology management and integration.

Detlev Zwick
Detlev Zwick

The program is designed to equip students with the leadership and management skills needed to succeed in a business world facing major transformational changes, including the rapid application of artificial intelligence (AI) and other technological advances. Key program features include: a guaranteed workplace internship lasting one full term; direct exposure to industry leaders as part of a small, selective class; and career support though the tech MBA’s Professional Development Hive, two professional development courses focusing on employability skills and career readiness.

“Schulich’s new tech MBA will produce graduates who bring cutting-edge managerial knowledge to help companies deal with technological disruption and the ongoing digital transformation reshaping the world of business,” says Detlev Zwick, dean of the Schulich School of Business.

M. Murat Kristal

M. Murat Kristal, associate professor of operations management and special advisor, AI and analytics, has been appointed as the inaugural director of the tech MBA program. An expert in analytics and digital transformation, Kristal brings over 10 years of experience in technology teaching and research to his role as director.

“The MBA in Technology Leadership Program offers a truly unique and innovative approach to business education, combining a comprehensive understanding of technology with the critical business skills needed to succeed in today’s rapidly evolving marketplace,” says Kristal. “With a focus on experiential learning, real-world projects and personalized coaching, our program prepares graduates to excel in leadership roles in tech-driven industries. Whether you’re an aspiring entrepreneur or a seasoned professional looking to take your career to the next level, the Tech MBA Program provides the tools and expertise you need to thrive in the digital age.”

For more information, including admission requirements, deadlines and class curricula previews, visit

Celebrate the launch of largest York-led research program on May 15

Driving Simulator

Celebrate Connected Minds, the largest York-led research program in the University’s history, and explore the world of artificial intelligence and disruptive technologies, at an official launch event and interactive showcase on Monday, May 15.

York community members are invited to attend and experience York research first-hand. Attendees will have the opportunity to enter an Indigenous metaverse in an immersive virtual reality (VR) experience, test their skills behind the wheel in a driving simulator, take in a VR art installation, jumble their senses in a tumbling room that can spin 360 degrees, interact with some of the latest robots used in University research, and more.

Connected Minds: Neural and Machine Systems for a Healthy, Just Society is a first-of-its-kind interdisciplinary research program, funded in part by the Canada First Research Excellence Fund (CFREF), that will work to ensure technological progress and the future of AI is fair and equitable. For more about the program and the researchers, see this story: York University leads groundbreaking research to ensure technology revolution leaves no one behind.

Connected Minds was officially announced as a recipient of the CFREF grant on April 28. It is the largest single federal grant ever awarded to York University. Join University officials, the research team and the program’s many partners, to mark this significant milestone for York research and the beginning of Connected Minds.   

RSVP today to attend in person, or virtually through a live stream, at

Date/time: Monday, May 15 at 1 p.m.
Location: Sherman Health Science Research Centre, 281 Ian MacDonald Blvd., Keele Campus

York-led $318M project to create transformational change in inclusive tech research 

York University's Amir Asif, Pina D'Agostino and Doug Crawford with representatives from Queen's University

York University is leading a $318.4-million, interdisciplinary, first-of-its kind research project that aims to advance the understanding of relationships between human minds and machines, and how society – or as the researchers have dubbed it, the “techno-social collective” – can evolve with these emerging technologies in a socially responsible way.

An initiative focused on inclusive technology research that partners with Queens University, “Connected Minds: Neural and Machine Systems for a Healthy, Just Society” is supported by $105.7 million in funding from the federal government’s Canada First Research Excellence Fund (CFREF) with $82.8 million dedicated to York and $22.8 million to Queens.

Susan Boehnke, Queen’s University with York University’s Pina D’Agostino, Doug Crawford and Gunnar Blohm, Queen’s University

Connected Minds will fund 35 strategic faculty hires, partner-focused seed, team, and prototyping grants, knowledge mobilization and commercialization activities, and an ambitious multi-institutional micro-credential training program with 385 trainees and cross-sector stakeholders. All activities will require interdisciplinary participation, and projects that benefit Indigenous and other equity-deserving groups will be prioritized. 

“The current technological revolution will have transformative positive impacts, and likely unintended negative impacts, on humanity for generations to come,” says Doug Crawford, York University Distinguished Research Professor in Neuroscience and inaugural scientific director of Connected Minds. “To predict these impacts and steer toward positive outcomes, one requires transdisciplinary expertise, multi-sector community engagement and research and training at levels that can only occur in a large-scale program. We thank CFREF for providing Connected Minds with the resources to lead Canada and the world in this timely and critical enterprise.” 

The directorate will be shared with York University Professor Pina D’Agostino, intellectual property and technology law expert, as vice director, and Professor Sean Hillier, Indigenous health scholar, as associate director. Engineer and neuroscientist Professor Gunnar Blohm joins as the vice director from Queen’s University. 

Experts across various fields – from eight of York’s Faculties and three of Queens’ – will focus on how emerging technology is transforming society and work to find a balance between the identified risks and benefits for humanity. The program will engage more than 50 community partners – from hospitals, policymakers, artists, industry partners and Indigenous communities – with emphasis on inclusive, interdisciplinary research. 

Connected Minds will combine York’s leadership in science and technology research, and longstanding institutional priorities in social sciences, arts and humanities, with Queens’ strengths in neuroscience, health and AI, as well as with partners across multiple sectors.

Amir Asif
Amir Asif

“York is an international leader in interdisciplinary research involving artificial intelligence and other disruptive technologies, social justice, and human science like biology, neuroscience, philosophy, and psychology,” says Amir Asif, York University vice-president, research and innovation. “The government’s substantial investment will unite York’s incredible strengths with Queen’s health specialties to chart new territory in socially responsible, community-engaged research for a rapidly changing digital world. 

“Connected Minds is the result of the incredible work and collaborative efforts of our faculty and staff, and will enable Canada to lead the creation of more inclusive technologies for the world.” 

Some of the program’s proposed projects include explorations into a more inclusive metaverse, virtual reality and community organizing, technologies for healthy aging, Indigenous data sovereignty, and how the human brain functions when people interact with AI versus each other. 

A new, dedicated Indigenous research space on York’s Keele Campus supports the program’s, and the University’s, focus on decolonizing, equity, diversity and inclusion (DEDI). 

“Connected Minds is informed by Indigenous perspectives and priorities to achieve outcomes that are culturally relevant and responsive to Indigenous ways of being and doing that impact how we think about and engage in life, health and education,” says Hillier, who is also director of York University’s Centre for Indigenous Knowledges & Languages. “Our work will seek to address the unexpected consequences of technological innovation, like the growing digital divide for Indigenous communities to access remote health care, and issues of data sovereignty, ownership and digital colonialism.” 

The CFREF funding positions York as a national leader in creating and adopting scientific and technological innovation and an agent of change in the promotion of a healthy and just techno-social collective. 

“We believe our inclusive, interdisciplinary approach that aligns with the UN Sustainable Development Goals makes York University the perfect place for anticipating the way humans and machines will, and should, connect in an equitable society,” says D’Agostino.

Watch a video on Connected Minds below.

York University receives largest-ever research funding grant

Vari hall

La version française suit la version anglaise.

Dear colleagues,

Today marks a new level of achievement for York University research and our outstanding faculty.

We are thrilled to share with you all that York University – in partnership with Queen’s University – has been awarded a monumental grant of nearly $105.7 million from the Canada First Research Excellence Fund (CFREF). The funding from the Government of Canada is the largest single federal grant ever awarded to York and is in support of Connected Minds: Neural and Machine Systems for a Healthy, Just Society.

As a research-intensive University committed to positive change, the Connected Minds program and its successful CFREF application elevates York’s research enterprise and allows our researchers to push the boundaries of purposeful research even further.

This innovative, new research program will be led by the inaugural directorate of:

  • Doug Crawford, Distinguished Research Professor, Faculty of Health, York University, Connected Minds Inaugural scientific director
  • Pina D’Agostino, associate professor, Osgoode Hall Law School, York University, Connected Minds vice-director
  • Gunnar Blohm, professor, School of Medicine, Queen’s University, Connected Minds vice-director
  • Sean Hillier, assistant professor, Faculty of Health, York University, Connected Minds associate director

In addition to the directorate, the core Connected Minds team includes York’s Shayna Rosenbaum, James Elder, Danielle Elliott, Robert Alison and Laura Levin, as well as Catherine Donnelly from Queen’s.

This historic CFREF grant awards York University with $82.8 million and $22.8 million to Queen’s University. When combined with the contributions (including in-kind) from multi-sector partners, municipal governments and collaborating institutions, the total value of the Connected Minds project is $318.4 million, making Connected Minds the biggest York-led research program in the University’s history.

Connected Minds is a pan-University effort and brings together experts in multiple fields, including the arts, humanities, engineering, law and life sciences, located across eight York Faculties and three Queen’s Faculties. Our researchers will examine the ways in which technology is transforming society – dubbed the “techno-social collective” – and will work to balance both the potential risks and benefits for humanity.

Connected Minds will fund 35 strategic faculty hires, three new Ontario Research Chairs, as well as partner-focused seed, team, and prototyping grants, knowledge mobilization and commercialization activities, and an ambitious multi-institutional micro-credential training program with 385 trainees and cross-sector stakeholders. All activities will require an interdisciplinary participation, and projects that benefit Indigenous and other equity-deserving groups will be prioritized.

Learn more about Connected Minds here:

Click here for York’s official announcement:

On behalf of the entire University, we want to express the community’s pride and excitement for today’s news and what this will mean for the future of York research.

Congratulations to the Connected Minds leadership team and for everyone involved in bringing about this significant milestone.

It’s a new era for research and innovation at York University.


Rhonda Lenton
President and Vice-Chancellor

Amir Asif
Vice-President Research and Innovation

L’Université York reçoit la plus importante subvention jamais accordée à la recherche

Chers collègues, chères collègues,

Aujourd’hui, un nouveau palier a été franchi par la recherche à l’Université York et notre remarquable corps professoral.

Nous sommes ravis de vous annoncer que l’Université York, en partenariat avec l’Université Queen’s, a reçu une subvention colossale d’environ 105,7 millions de dollars du Fonds d’excellence en recherche Apogée Canada (FERAC). Le financement du gouvernement du Canada est la plus importante subvention fédérale jamais accordée à York; elle appuie le projet appelé Esprits branchés /Connected Minds : Systèmes neuronaux et mécaniques pour une société saine et juste.

En tant qu’université à forte intensité de recherche engagée en faveur de changements positifs, le programme Esprits branchés/Connected Minds et sa candidature fructueuse auprès du FERAC rehaussent l’effort de recherche à York et permettent à nos chercheurs de repousser encore plus loin les limites de la recherche ciblée.

Ce nouveau programme de recherche innovant sera dirigé par l’équipe de direction inaugurale du programme de recherche :

  • Doug Crawford, professeur distingué de la Faculté de la santé, Université York, directeur scientifique inaugural d’Esprits branchés/Connected Minds
  • Pina D’Agostino, professeure agrégée de l’École de droit Osgoode Hall, Université York, vice-directrice associée d’Esprits branchés/Connected Minds
  • Gunnar Blohm, professeur de l’École de médecine de l’Université Queen’s, vice-directeur associé d’Esprits branchés/Connected Minds
  • Sean Hillier, professeur adjoint de la Faculté de la santé, Université York, directeur associé d’Esprits branchés/Connected Minds

En plus de la direction, l’équipe principale d’Esprits branchés/Connected Minds comprend Shayna Rosenbaum, James Elder, Danielle Elliott, Robert Alison et Laura Levin de York, ainsi que Catherine Donnelly de Queen’s.

Cette subvention historique du FERAC attribue 82,8 millions de dollars à l’Université York et 22,8 millions de dollars à l’Université Queen’s. Si l’on ajoute les contributions (y compris en nature) des partenaires multisectoriels, des administrations municipales et des institutions collaboratrices, la valeur totale du projet Esprits branchés/Connected Minds s’élève à 318,4 millions de dollars, ce qui en fait le plus grand programme de recherche dirigé par York dans l’histoire de l’Université.

Esprits branchés/Connected Minds est une initiative panuniversitaire qui rassemble des experts dans de nombreux domaines, notamment les arts, les sciences humaines, l’ingénierie, le droit et les sciences de la vie, répartis dans huit facultés de York et trois facultés de Queen. Nos chercheurs examineront la manière dont la technologie transforme la société — appelée « le collectif technosocial » — et s’efforceront d’équilibrer les risques et les avantages potentiels pour l’humanité.

Esprits branchés/Connected Minds financera le recrutement stratégique de 35 professeurs; de trois nouvelles chaires de recherche de l’Ontario; des subventions de démarrage, d’équipe et de prototypage axées sur les partenaires; des activités de mobilisation des connaissances et de commercialisation; ainsi qu’un ambitieux programme multi-institutionnel de formation aux microcrédits avec 385 postes de stagiaires et des intervenants intersectoriels. Toutes les activités nécessiteront une participation interdisciplinaire, et les projets bénéficiant aux autochtones et aux autres groupes en quête d’équité seront prioritaires.

Pour en savoir plus sur Esprits branchés/Connected Minds :

Cliquez ici pour l’annonce officielle de York :

Au nom de toute l’Université, nous tenons à exprimer la fierté et l’enthousiasme de la communauté à l’égard de l’annonce d’aujourd’hui et de ce qu’elle signifie pour l’avenir de la recherche à York.

Félicitations à l’équipe dirigeante d’Esprit branchés/Connected Minds et à toutes les personnes qui ont contribué à la réalisation de cette avancée majeure.

Une nouvelle ère commence pour la recherche et l’innovation à l’Université York.

Sincères salutations,

Rhonda Lenton
Présidente et vice-chancelière

Amir Asif
Vice-président de la recherche et de l’innovation

Lassonde researcher fighting clickbait, Twitter bots with artificial intelligence

Social media icons on a phone screen

Uyen Trang Nguyen, an associate professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering & Computer Science at York University’s Lassonde School of Engineering is developing artificial intelligence (AI) systems to detect clickbait and Twitter bots, two techniques commonly used to spread fraudulent content online.

“I was inspired to start this work because I see the issues that are caused by false information on the internet,” says Nguyen.

Uyen Trang Nguyen
Uyen Trang Nguyen

Fraudulent content online, such as misinformation and marketing scams, can have major global and personal consequences, ranging from financial to political damage, to cultural and personal disagreements and divides.

The systems Nguyen has created to combat them are developed with a subfield of AI called machine learning (ML), which trains computers to extract patterns and knowledge from specific data and learn from it, similar to the way humans read an instruction manual before completing an unfamiliar task. Each target – clickbait and Twitter bots – will be detected in particular ways by Nguyen’s AI.

For clickbait, Nguyen’s system analyzes the relationship between words in an article or on a webpage to detect clickbait. This system operates using a combination of methods that have not been used for clickbait detection systems before: a neural network that can mimic our brain’s ability to recognize patterns and regularities in data, coupled with human semantic knowledge of language to understand the relationship between words. While analyzing an article or webpage, the system relies on a graph that represents the semantic relationship between words and uses this information to correlate the title of an article or webpage to its content – if the title and content do not match, it is labelled as clickbait.

To detect Twitter bots, Nguyen’s system combines natural language processing with a recurrent neural network. Working together to analyze tweet content, natural language processing allows the system to understand text the way humans do, while the recurrent neural network helps the system identify language patterns used by bots. Using these methods, the system can distinguish a Twitter bot from a legitimate Twitter account.

Using these proposed systems to detect clickbait and Twitter bots, network administrators from companies such as Google or Twitter would have the ability to slow down or prevent the spread of fraudulent content before it reaches more internet users. An added feature that Nguyen is developing to improve the use of these systems is explainability – this allows the systems to provide an explanation behind their decisions. “It’s hard for people to trust artificial intelligence – it’s a computer, not a person,” says Nguyen. “I want to make sure these systems can explain what they are doing, so we can build trust in AI.”

Nguyen is working on additional improvements on her AI systems, including a feature that will permit her Twitter-bot detection system to distinguish between harmful and harmless bots. She is also applying machine learning methods to develop a system that can support financial institutions by detecting money laundering transactions.

York research shows AI better than human eye at predicting brain metastasis outcomes

To truly understand how the brain is working, Crawford says we have to know how the different areas of the brain, and different neurons in those areas, are connecting to each other

A recent study by York University researchers suggests an innovative artificial intelligence (AI) technique they developed is considerably more effective than the human eye when it comes to predicting therapy outcomes in patients with brain metastases.

The team hopes the new research and technology could eventually lead to more tailored treatment plans and better health outcomes for cancer patients.

Ali Sadeghi-Naini
Ali Sadeghi-Naini

“This is a sophisticated and comprehensive analysis of MRIs to find features and patterns that are not usually captured by the human eye,” says York Research Chair Ali Sadeghi-Naini, associate professor of biomedical engineering and computer science in the Lassonde School of Engineering, and lead on the study.

“We hope our technique, which is a novel AI-based predictive method of detecting radiotherapy failure in brain metastasis, will be able to help oncologists and patients make better informed decisions and adjust treatment in a situation where time is of the essence.”

Previous studies have shown that using standard practices, such as MRI imaging – assessing the size, location and number of brain metastases – as well as the primary cancer type and overall condition of the patient, oncologists are able to predict treatment failure (defined as continued growth of the tumour) about 65 per cent of the time. The researchers created and tested several AI models and their best one had an 83 per cent accuracy.

Brain metastases are a type of cancerous tumour that develops when primary cancers in the lungs, breasts, colon or other parts of the body are spread to the brain via the bloodstream or lymphatic system. While there are various treatment options, stereotactic radiotherapy is one of the more common, with treatment consisting of concentrated doses of radiation targeted at the area with the tumour.

“Not all of the tumours respond to radiation – up to 30 per cent of these patients have continued growth of their tumour, even after treatment,” said Sadeghi-Naini. “This is often not discovered until months after treatment via follow-up MRI.”

This delay is time patients with brain metastases cannot afford, as it is a particularly debilitating condition with most people succumbing to the disease between three months to five years after diagnosis. “It’s very important to predict therapy response even before that therapy begins,” Sadeghi-Naini added.

Using a machine-learning technique known as deep learning, the researchers created artificial neural networks trained on a large pool of data, then taught the AI to pay more attention to specific areas.

“When you look at an MRI, you see areas within or surrounding the tumour where the intensity and pattern is different, so you attend to those parts with your vision system more,” explained Sadeghi-Naini. “But an AI algorithm is blind to this. The attention mechanism we incorporated into the algorithm helps these AI tools to learn which part of these images are more important and put more weight on that for analysis and prediction.”

The study, now available online, has been published in the IEEE Journal of Translational Engineering in Health and Medicine. Partially funded by the Terry Fox Research Institute (TFRI), the modelling work was done at Sadeghi-Naini’s lab at York’s Keele Campus with York PhD student Ali Jalalifar, first author on the study. When it came to data acquisition and interpreting the results from more than 120 patients, the team was able to leverage York’s long-standing collaborative relationship with Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto. Other funders of the study included the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) and the Hatch Memorial Foundation.

Sadeghi-Naini says that while more research needs to be done, the findings point to AI being a potentially significant tool in precision management of brain metastasis and even other types of cancer down the line.

The next step to adopting this as a clinical practice would be looking at a larger cohort with a multi-institutional data set, from there a clinical trial could be developed. “If standard treatments can be tailored for patients based on their response to treatments – that can be predicted before treatment even starts – there’s a good chance that the overall survival of the patients can be improved,” he concludes.

As part of its long‐standing program involving the best cancer researchers across Canada, the Terry Fox New Frontiers Program Project Grants, TFRI is funding further research in ultrasound and MRI for cancer therapy by Sadeghi-Naini and a team of clinicians and scientists based out of Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre the amount of $6 million over the next six years. Sadeghi-Naini is leading the biomedical computational-AI core of the program, receiving $900,000 of that funding.

Watch the video of Sadeghi-Naini explaining the technology.

Senate approves five new Organized Research Units

research graphic

The five new Organized Research Units (ORUs) focus on new and emerging discoveries in artificial intelligence (AI), neuroscience, emergency mitigation, water, technoscience and society.

The Office of the Vice-President Research & Innovation (VPRI) announces that the Senate of York University has approved five new ORUs, four of which officially started on July 1. The Centre for Integrative and Applied Neuroscience will commence its activity on July 1, 2023.

Amir Asif
Amir Asif

“York’s ORUs have been remarkably successful in fostering positive change by bringing together expertise across disciplines,” said Amir Asif, vice-president research and innovation. “Our organized research units serve as synergistic hubs, supporting innovative, interdisciplinary and collaborative research taking place beyond traditional academic units. The new ORUs exemplify our strengths in technology, sustainability practices, artificial intelligence, neuroscience and emergency management – areas of strategic importance to the University in light of our commitment to United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals.”

The Centre for Artificial Intelligence and Society (CAIS) unites researchers who are collectively advancing state of the art theory and practice of artificial intelligence (AI) systems, law, governance and public policy. The research focuses on AI systems that address societal priorities in health care, smart cities and sustainability, and are fair, explainable, reliable and trusted. 

Neuroscience – the study of nervous system function – aims to explain the biological basis of human behaviour in health and disease. One in three Canadians will experience a brain-related health disorder. The Centre for Integrative and Applied Neuroscience (CIAN), commencing July 1, 2023, mobilizes research to address health, education, industry and other applications important for the global community. 

The Institute for Technoscience and Society (ITS) is a global hub of critical and interdisciplinary research and knowledge mobilization on the relationship between technoscience and society, especially the configuration of social power underpinning scientific claims, medical practices, emerging technologies and sites of innovation.

The York Emergency Mitigation, Engagement, Response, and Governance Institute (Y-EMERGE) works to transform the way societies understand, conceptualize, analyze, manage and govern crises, disasters and emergencies. Y-EMERGE emphasizes community-engaged scholarship, real-world and need-driven research, and evidence-based training for effective emergency management.

One WATER will greatly enhance the capacity to address the diverse aspects of the ongoing water sustainability crises, attract and train future leaders in the field, educate the public, innovate with industrial partners, and attract external competitive funding and endowments. One WATER will engage in interdisciplinary world-class research on sourcing, artificial intelligence, technologies, education and sustainability, resource recovery and reuse, as well as their environmental, educational and societal implications.

The York community can expect another announcement in the coming weeks on the appointment of the ORU directors for these newly established ORUs.

More information on York’s 30 existing Organized Research Units can be found on the University’s Research & Innovation website.

Bracing for Impact series returns in-person with ‘Future of AI’ event

Event banner Bracing for Impact 2022 The Future of AI for Society

IP Osgoode, Reichman University and Microsoft announce the return of Bracing for Impact in-person events for the first time since 2019.

This year’s conference theme is “The Future of AI for Society.” Bracing for Impact 2022 will run from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. on Nov. 9 at Osgoode Hall Law School.

Throughout the day, three panels – each an hour in length – will examine the burgeoning roles of artificial intelligence in our daily lives. Areas of focus include: AI in the urban development of smart cities, AI in legal practice and the importance of legal data, and AI in healthcare. These panels are followed by the launch of the York University Centre for Artificial Intelligence and Society and the award ceremony for the IP Osgoode David Vaver Medal of Excellence in Intellectual Property, which annually recognizes one graduating Osgoode student’s exceptional achievements in intellectual property law.

For more panel details, including a full list of guest speakers, click here.

Between the panels are two intermissions – during which attendees will have an opportunity to meet and greet SPOT, the famous AI robot dog from Boston Dynamics – as well as a lunch break.

Lior Zemer, dean of the Harry Radzyner Law School at Reichman University, will be joined by Justice Marshall Rothstein, formerly of the Supreme Court of Canada, for a special luncheon keynote. Their collaborative presentation on “ghetto copyright” demonstrates the failure of today’s legal apparatus and contemporary academic discourse in protecting and advancing the property rights of Jewish prisoners who directly documented the horrors of the Holocaust. Zemer and Rothstein will spark a provocative debate over legal and moral rights in these works of art, music, drama and authorship.

Admission is free and includes breakfast, lunch, refreshments throughout the day and a reception in the evening. The event will also be livestreamed on the Osgoode Hall Law School YouTube channel. You can also register to receive an email reminder with the link on the morning of the event.

In-person registration is currently full. To join the in-person event waiting list please proceed through the Eventbrite registration to be notified if a seat becomes available.

If you are no longer able to attend in-person, please advise event organizers via the Eventbrite page to edit your registration.

Click here for event registration.

For more information contact IP Osgoode at:

York researchers’ revamped AI tool makes water dramatically safer in refugee camps

Water droplets

A team of researchers from the Dahdaleh Institute for Global Health Research and Lassonde School of Engineering have revamped their Safe Water Optimization Tool (SWOT) with multiple innovations that will help aid workers unlock potentially life-saving information from water-quality data regularly collected in humanitarian settings. 

Syed Imran Ali
Syed Imran Ali

Created in partnership with Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), the free-to-use, open-source online platform has been shown to dramatically increase water safety for people living in refugee camps and has corrected major inaccuracies about proper chlorination levels that went on for decades. 

SWOT v2, to be unveiled at a virtual event on Nov. 8, builds on earlier research with advancements in the tool’s machine-learning and numerical-modelling engines. A reimagined and redesigned user experience, and new functionalities, promise to give humanitarian responders much-needed assistance in situations where waterborne diseases are among the leading health threats. 

“Our first version of the tool was a prototype. What we’ve done in the past two years with user feedback and field learning is build a state-of-the-art web product,” says team lead Syed Imran Ali, who is a research Fellow at the Dahdaleh Institute and an adjunct professor at the Lassonde School of Engineering. “This is one of the first operational deployments of artificial-intelligence technology in humanitarian response.”  

Ali and the rest of the team, who include machine learning lead Professor Usman T. Khan from Lassonde’s Department of Civil Engineering, modelling graduate researcher Mike De Santi, Dahdaleh Institute Director Dr. James Orbinski, MD, and field advisor James Brown, say these improvements are informed by real-life lessons gleaned from the field.

Humanitarian aid workers face huge challenges supplying safe water to people affected by conflict or natural disasters, explains Brown, who has previously worked in camps managing the water supply of upwards of 40,000 people

“Working as a water engineer in crisis, you’re providing water to people who are often extremely vulnerable, and it’s your job to help protect them from all the health risks that exist in that kind of environment. It’s so frustrating not having the information you need to be confident that the water you’re delivering isn’t yet another health risk,” he says. 

“The motivation for all the work we’ve been doing to release the SWOT v2 is to help people make the best decisions and provide confidence that quality standards are being maintained — both for aid workers and those relying on the water supply.”  

The tool was born out of Ali’s experience working with MSF as a water and sanitation specialist in refugee settlements in South Sudan. Despite following industry-standard guidelines for water chlorination, Ali and his colleagues were seeing that water was still unsafe in people’s households during a large outbreak of Hepatitis E, a serious waterborne illness that can have up to a 25 per cent mortality rate among pregnant women.

“There was a huge crisis — end of the rainy season, flooding everywhere,” Ali recalled. “So all these waterborne diseases were tearing through the camp.” 

Through field research looking at how water quality behaves in refugee camps, Ali and his team discovered the chlorination guidelines used widely in the humanitarian sector were built on faulty assumptions.

“No one had ever looked at the problem of what happens after the tap,” Ali explains, noting that unlike most urban settings in the developed world, people in refugee camps must collect water from public faucets in containers and then bring it back to their homes where it is stored and used for many hours, introducing many opportunities for recontamination during this ‘last mile’ of the safe-water chain. 

Building on the work initiated in South Sudan, the research team studied chlorination levels at distribution and in households in refugee camps around the world, and realized they could use this data — which is routinely collected for monitoring purposes — to model post-distribution chlorine decay and generate site-specific and evidence-based water-chlorination targets. They put these modelling tools on the cloud to create the SWOT v1 prototype and carried out a proof-of-concept study in a large refugee camp in Bangladesh.

“We found that using the SWOT recommendations effectively doubled the proportion of households with safe water at around 15 hours compared to the status-quo practice,” Ali says.

While these results were very impressive, they did not account for all the various conditions water and sanitation workers could experience, Brown adds, which v2 factors in. 

They also did not account for taste. SWOT v2 not only promises to make water safer, but also find the optimal level where chlorine levels are high enough to protect people, but not so high that people will reject it. This is particularly important in parts of the world where people were previously used to sources such as high-quality spring water and are not accustomed to chlorine. 

“If people don’t like the taste, they don’t like the way it looks and smells, they’re not going to use that source and they’ll then go to a river or somewhere else that could be dangerous,” Brown says.

In future SWOT versions, the team hopes to include other water quality and health outcomes and look at how they could integrate more participation from displaced people themselves. While Ali says the tool cannot deal with the political roots of the refugee crisis, the practical need for SWOT is greater than ever. 

“The unfortunate fact of it is there’s more people displaced now than there ever has been in human history,” Ali says. “We see climate-linked disasters increasing in frequency and scale — in particular, flooding crises, which are linked to a lot of waterborne illness. It is a very clear and present danger. People need solutions that work in the current context.”

Research: Even smartest AI models don’t match human visual processing

computer plays chess with a human

A York University study highlights how deep-network models used in artificial intelligence (AI) take potentially dangerous shortcuts in solving complex recognition tasks.

James Elder
James Elder

Deep convolutional neural networks (DCNNs) used in computer vision don’t see objects the way humans do – using configural shape perception – and that could be dangerous in real-world Artificial Intelligence (AI) applications, says York University Professor James Elder, co-author of a new study released Friday, Sept. 16. Elder, who is a professor in York’s Faculty of Health and the Lassonde School of Engineering, is the York Research Chair in Human and Computer Vision and co-director of York’s Centre for AI & Society. He collaborated on this study with Nicholas Baker, assistant professor of psychology at Loyola College in Chicago, and a former VISTA postdoctoral fellow at York.

Published in the journal iScience the study, titled Deep learning models fail to capture the configural nature of human shape perception, employed novel visual stimuli called “Frankensteins” to explore how the human brain and DCNNs process holistic, configural object properties.

“Frankensteins are simply objects that have been taken apart and put back together the wrong way around,” says Elder. “As a result, they have all the right local features, but in the wrong places.”  

The investigators found that while the human visual system is confused by Frankensteins, DCNNs are not – revealing an insensitivity to configural object properties.

“Our results explain why deep AI models fail under certain conditions and point to the need to consider tasks beyond object recognition in order to understand visual processing in the brain,” says Elder. “These deep models tend to take ‘shortcuts’ when solving complex recognition tasks. While these shortcuts may work in many cases, they can be dangerous in some of the real-world AI applications we are currently working on with our industry and government partners.” Elder points out.

One such application is traffic video safety systems: “The objects in a busy traffic scene – the vehicles, bicycles and pedestrians – obstruct each other and arrive at the eye of a driver as a jumble of disconnected fragments,” explains Elder. “The brain needs to correctly group those fragments to identify the correct categories and locations of the objects. An AI system for traffic safety monitoring that is only able to perceive the fragments individually will fail at this task, potentially misunderstanding risks to vulnerable road users.”

According to the researchers, modifications to training and architecture aimed at making networks more brain-like did not lead to configural processing, and none of the networks were able to accurately predict trial-by-trial human object judgements. “We speculate that to match human configural sensitivity, networks must be trained to solve a broader range of object tasks beyond category recognition,” says Elder.