What does artificial intelligence mean for our world?

A new course at McMaster University is diving into the societal implications of artificial intelligence The post What does artificial intelligence mean for our world? appeared first on Macleans.ca.

What does artificial intelligence mean for our world?

While studying cancer biology as a health sciences student at McMaster University in 2016, Andrew Leber started to wonder how artificial intelligence might help diagnose and improve cancer treatments. He brought together 10 friends, also science students, for a reading group focused on technical concepts in machine learning.

But it turned out many more students were interested. Leber and friends opened the reading group to a wider audience, and within a month it had 50 members. A few months later, Leber launched the McMaster AI Society, which blossomed into one of McMaster University’s largest student-run clubs. The group received a sponsorship from Microsoft and has since grown to more than 1,000 members, many of whom are from faculties such as business, the humanities and social sciences.

One of them is Sarah Bowron, a third-year sociology student, who was concerned about the legal landscape and privacy implications of AI: “What are the privacy boundaries? How is [AI] impacting people in ways that we really don’t know about?”

READ: The multiverse theory, explained 

Early on, the club’s popularity caught the attention of an engineering faculty member, who floated the idea of creating a new undergraduate course. Leber led the committee to develop the course, and Innovate 1Z03 is now offered through the university’s innovation minor program, a collaboration between the faculty of engineering and the DeGroote School of Business. It’s a bit of a departure from typical AI courses that are available through computer science and engineering departments in Canadian universities, which tend to teach algorithmic techniques to program and analyze AI rather than the societal implications. Instead, Innovate 1Z03, and other new interdisciplinary courses at the University of Toronto, are teaching AI as both an art and a science.

“Students are going into a world where they hear about AI all the time,” says Matthew Jordan, the professor who teaches Innovate 1Z03. “This new technology is going to be a fixture of their life, and it’s over-hyped and misunderstood.” Throughout the semester, Jordan’s students reflect on how AI is presented in news headlines and wrestle with questions such as: how close is AI to reaching human-level intelligence? Is AI replacing the need for human labour? Is AI in fact a new technology? (Spoiler alert: the field has existed for 75 years.)

For one assignment, students assume the role of a CEO of a global AI company and work in teams on a roadmap for the AI industry or to develop a new AI application. Akil Hamilton, a fourth-year software engineering student, designed a virtual assistant for physicians to offer customized treatment recommendations based on a patient’s experience. Hamilton says a problem emerges when AI algorithms are shown or “trained on” data from an overrepresented demographic group. For example, if an image recognition algorithm is trained on more light-skinned faces than dark-skinned faces, the AI would be better at detecting light-skinned faces. “If we are looking to give an accurate health-based recommendation, [this kind of algorithmic bias] is something we will need to overcome,” Hamilton says.

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At the University of Toronto, Karina Vold teaches two courses that encourage students to think about AI like philosophers. In The Limits of Machine Intelligence, students unpack hidden assumptions about the concept of “intelligence,” stepping back to reflect on what it means to consider something “conscious” or “intelligent” in the first place. “In some ways, it’s a dream-shattering course,” says Vold, because there’s an idea that AI has the potential to exhibit human-level thinking or self-awareness. But in Vold’s course, the takeaway is often, “Hey, AI is not there yet. But here’s why,” she says.

In many ways, these new interdisciplinary AI courses are both sobering and illuminating, putting in the foreground the importance of deep, critical thinking, a long-valued skill in the liberal arts. “It would be a harm for us as a society to let a technology be built that has such a widespread impact without having some critical reflection on what that impact is, and without trying to really understand it,” Vold says.


This article appears in print in the 2022 University Rankings issue of Maclean’s magazine with the headline, “Machines are us?”

The post What does artificial intelligence mean for our world? appeared first on Macleans.ca.

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Reclaiming the Thunderbirds sports team name at the University of British Columbia

At UBC, the athletics department is working with local First Nations to decolonize and Indigenize sport. They have a new tagline and are introducing renewed storytelling about how the Thunderbirds—the school’s varsity teams—got their name. The post Reclaiming the Thunderbirds sports team name at the University of British Columbia appeared first on Macleans.ca.

Reclaiming the Thunderbirds sports team name at the University of British Columbia

(Photograph by Felicia Chang)

At the heart of the University of British Columbia campus at University Boulevard and East Mall, the excitement is palpable. Orientation leaders gather with small groups of students to provide guidance for all things campus and class-related. Above the steady stream of traffic stands the highly visible Musqueam house post, sʔi:ɬqəy̓ qeqən, created by Brent Sparrow Jr. and representative of the Musqueam Nation and its history. It serves as a reminder that UBC resides on stolen and unceded Musqueam territory.

Today, I am on campus, learning about UBC’s history and meeting with fellow alumnus Kavie Toor, who was appointed managing director of athletics and recreation in March 2020. Toor hopes to bring a different way of thinking about the impact of varsity sports to the UBC community. “Not sport for sports’ sake, but an agent for excellence, health and well-being, community building and reconciliation,” he says.

(Photograph by Felicia Chang)

Across campus at Brock Hall stands the Victory Through Honour pole. At the top is a figure known as the Thunderbird, a powerful mythical creature. Lou-ann Neel, a curator for the Royal B.C. Museum, says the pole was created by her grandmother, Ellen Neel, and based on the Kwikwasut’inuxw origin story of the five tests of Tsikumayi (Cedar Man). She understands this story to be about the human condition and overcoming great challenges.

MORE: How Indigenous institutes are reclaiming education

(Photograph by Felicia Chang)

“Thunderbirds” is the name first chosen by student athletes in 1933 without consultation or permission from Indigenous communities. But in 1948 Chief William Scow of the Kwakwa̱ka̱ʼwakw people gave the school permission to use the name with a traditional ceremony during a homecoming football game and Ellen Neel gifted her carving of the Victory Through Honour pole. “It was and still is, unfortunately, a common practice for people to borrow or appropriate native names,” says Neel. “My grandmother obtained a copyright certificate for the written legend, so [copyright] prevents others from reinterpreting it away from the original story.” The pole was originally raised with the permission of the Musqueam people, and after repeated vandalism and decay, a replica carved by Calvin Hunt, Mervin Child and John Livingston was raised in 2004 and again given permission at a rededication ceremony.

(Photograph by Felicia Chang)

This year, UBC is introducing a new tagline for its athletics programs—“Together, we take flight”—along with renewed storytelling about the Thunderbird name. Toor hopes to continue its legacy by helping revitalize pride in its rich Indigenous history. He hopes this pride will fuel a new approach to reconciliation within his department: decolonizing and then Indigenizing sport.

(Photograph by Felicia Chang)

“Decolonizing is stripping away barriers to access that would normally exist within this institution,” says Toor. For instance, collaboration with the Musqueam community led to the creation of the Musqueam family night aquatics program, where each week, Indigenous leaders provide lessons that focus on water safety and promote sport. To Indigenize, Toor says the first step is for UBC—administration, faculty, staff, students and graduates—to acknowledge its part in perpetrating harm toward Indigenous people, even through unconscious complicity.

RELATED: The Nunavik village transforming a local church—a complex symbol of colonialism

(Photograph by Felicia Chang)

Toor intends to have the department align with UBC’s Indigenous Strategic Plan and carry out initiatives in equitable partnership with the Musqueam people. The Great Trek Festival is an annual running race through Musqueam territory to celebrate the shared history between UBC and the Musqueam people; a run clinic to promote healthy activity is hosted within the Musqueam community as a part of this partnership. Students are also invited to performances by Indigenous artists and presentations from the university’s Indian Residential School History and Dialogue Centre. “This collaborative work should be part of the legacy we create and uphold,” Toor says.


This photo essay appears in print in the 2022 University Rankings issue of Maclean’s magazine with the headline, “Taking flight, together.”

The post Reclaiming the Thunderbirds sports team name at the University of British Columbia appeared first on Macleans.ca.

Source : Maclean's More   

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