Amii aims to draw talent to Edmonton for AI Week

The Alberta Machine Intelligence Institute (Amii) is hoping to attract companies and individuals working in artificial intelligence to Edmonton this spring for its inaugural AI Week by offering "global talent bursaries" that will cover travel and accommodation for up to 500 people.

"We really want to leverage the week to be able to show off the great things that are going on here," CEO Cam Linke told Taproot.

"Without that first visit, it's tough to know everything that's going on. The goal is to introduce them to the province, make connections to great people, researchers, companies, and then let things grow from there."

The aim is to encourage entrepreneurs to set up a new or existing company here, or move to the city and join one of the businesses looking for AI or machine learning talent. The first $100,000 available has been advertised, with over 30 bursaries awarded so far.

Amii is currently seeing a need for AI professionals at every level, but that mid-career to senior talent is harder to find. Linke explained that it's a challenge every region in the world is facing.

"Demand is outstripping supply. There are a lot of AI companies ... but there's also a ton of traditional industry companies that are realizing that AI is a core piece to what they're doing going forward. So they're also hiring and need to grow their teams," he said.

Linke said he has talked to Alberta-based companies that say they want to eventually bring on people earlier in their careers, but currently need employees who can supervise and lead teams.

"Often that can be the bottleneck to a lot more growth ... for the province and for companies here," Linke said.

A portrait of Cam Linke

Cam Linke is the CEO of the Alberta Machine Intelligence Institute. (Supplied)

The idea to draw in professionals with bursaries was borrowed from past startup weeks around the world. Amii is planning to offer more than the initial $100,000 in the months to come but wouldn't say how much money sponsor companies have dedicated to this initiative.

As for AI Week itself, there will be an academic symposium to showcase local AI research, public keynotes, demonstrations and opportunities to see AI in practice, talent mixers to connect people with companies hiring, and more.

It will also mark the 20th anniversary of Amii as an institute at the University of Alberta.

Linke is optimistic that AI Week, which runs from May 24 to 27, will happen in person as planned, but there are also hybrid and remote backup plans ready if there is a resurgence of COVID-19 cases.

"Right now ... we're pretty excited about being in person and definitely hoping things continue in a good direction there."