Science & Technology

Science in the city: ALL IN 2023 unveils future of AI in Montreal

On Sept. 27 and 28, Montreal hosted ALL IN 2023, a conference bringing together industry specialists and cutting-edge researchers in the field of artificial intelligence (AI) at the Palais des Congrès de Montréal. Experts gave speeches and participated in panels on a wide variety of topics, including AI’s impact on creative innovations and the workforce. To reflect Montreal’s bilingualism, the event was hosted in a combination of English and French with live translation provided via headset. 

Conference opening

The event kicked off at 8:30 a.m. on Sept. 27. After a brief opening by Hélène Desmarais, co-founder and chair of the Montreal-based AI company IVADO Labs, Montreal mayor Valérie Plante took the stage. She began with a land acknowledgement and then transitioned into welcoming attendees to Montreal, pitching the city as an international hub of AI innovation. 

“You’ve chosen the economic and cultural metropolis of Montreal as the perfect place to move the boundaries of your knowledge,” Plante said. 

She also emphasized the urgency of finding ethical ways to develop AI technologies, calling it “one of the biggest tests of our time.”

Pierre Fitzgibbon, the Minister of Economy, Innovation, and Energy for Quebec, spoke next, highlighting the investments that the provincial government has made into AI research. He underscored the Quebec strategy to support research and investment in innovation as well as the government’s funding of organizations like NextAI, which help finance and accelerate AI start-ups.

New McGill Graduate Programs

Carola Weil, Dean of Continuing Studies at McGill University, and John Gradek, a faculty lecturer in aviation management, announced two new graduate programs on the afternoon of the 27th. McGill will now offer graduate certificates in Dynamic Supply Networks and Integrated Supply Networks, both of which use AI to analyze modern supply management. 

These programs are not master’s degrees, but rather 15-credit certificates offered by the School of Continuing Studies with the intention of supporting professionals in developing skills working with AI in the private sector. They are part of the School’s ongoing push to offer modern and relevant certifications in a variety of areas, such as financial technology and data analysis.

How can AI help artists?

The conference continued with a panel of three experts who have each incorporated AI into their creative processes. The first was Julia Kastner, Chief Marketing and Business Development Officer at Hitlab, a company that uses machine learning to gauge how successful a given song will be in different music charts. While Hitlab does not use AI to generate music, the company does attempt to integrate it into the process of discovering and popularizing hit music. 

The next speaker was Céline Mornet, the Interactive Team Lead at the Montreal-based public art installation company Moment Factory. Moment Factory has created artwork displayed in Montreal and across the globe and is the team behind the nightly light display on the Jacques Cartier Bridge. Many of their exhibits incorporate interactive components and AI software, with the bridge, for example, using the traffic and weather patterns of the day to create a unique display each night. 

Sandra Rodriguez, an independent creative director and a faculty lecturer at MIT, presented her work on the Chom5ky vs. Chomsky project. An immersive virtual reality experience, the program allows users to speak with a simulated version of Noam Chomsky, renowned linguist and noted critic of AI models such as ChatGPT. 

What does the future of work look like?

Returning to the industry side of the conference, several speakers shared their perspectives on the role of AI in the changing employment landscape and the responsibilities that governments, corporations, and individuals have in these unfamiliar circumstances. 

Lucia Velasco, a Spanish economist at the European University Institute, emphasized that the lack of accurate information about ever-changing economies and workplaces constitutes a major issue that governments must grapple with. 

“We’re facing a significant gap in our understanding of what is happening,” Velasco said. “And by this, I mean that most countries lack a systematic approach within their official statistics and [way of] tracking how automation is impacting tasks and therefore jobs.”

Basheerhamad Shadrach, Director of the Commonwealth Educational Media Centre for Asia, added that even when governments are collecting accurate statistics, the data focuses on formal workers, especially those engaged in skilled or industrial labour. 

“There’s absolutely no sense of what’s happening in the informal sector, […] when it comes to landless labourers, to vegetable vendors, to street vendors, to people who actually live on subsistence income,” Shadrach said.

Overall, the speakers stressed that a certain degree of ‘AI literacy’ is critical for individuals as we face a future of work that will inevitably incorporate a large amount of AI support.

Julie Garneau, professor in the Department of Industrial Relations at the Université du Québec en Outaouais, highlighted the urgency of education in this area. 

“90 per cent of the world are users of AI. Somehow or another, we are impacted in our daily life by all these AI tools and technologies, and we should be aware,” Garneau said. “So we need to actually bring in that AI literacy component very early in our lives.”

What types of regulation do we need?

No conference about AI is complete without a thorough discussion of government regulation. One of the afternoon panels on Sept. 28 brought together a selection of experts to give their perspectives on what role the government can or should play in regulating AI models. 

Duncan Cass-Beggs, Global AI Risk Initiative’s executive director, noted that when it comes to AI, a truly far-reaching approach is needed and that effective regulation must work at the scale of international law. 

“You could imagine a scenario where a splinter group from a frontier lab says, ‘well, we don’t like your regulations. We’re going to go and relocate somewhere that’s got a lot of cheap energy and low regulations,’” Cass-Beggs said. “There needs to be a bit of an international principle that no state is allowed to harbor actors that are developing something that potentially could harm all of humanity.”

They also discussed the difficulties that arise when trying to regulate something that changes as quickly as AI.

“We [policy makers] are feeling overwhelmed because literally the things that we’re seeing announced this week are capabilities that would have seemed like science fiction six months ago,” said Cass-Beggs. 

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