Amii funds 20 new research chairs in AI at U of A

· The Pulse

The University of Alberta is about to go on a global shopping spree in search of experts to fill 20 new positions in artificial intelligence after a $30-million investment from the Alberta Machine Intelligence Institute (Amii).

Five of the new faculty members will be in computing science. The other 15 will fund interdisciplinary research related to health, energy, and Indigenous initiatives. The investment will also fund four existing positions.

"All of these positions will support research in areas of existing strength for the university," U of A president Bill Flanagan said at the Jan. 31 funding announcement. "Adding these AI chairs will boost our global reputation for research excellence, and will continue to signal to Canada and the world that we are uniquely positioned to tackle some of the world's most pressing challenges."

Amii CEO Cam Linke announced the news a week after Alphabet confirmed the closure of DeepMind's Edmonton office. In his remarks, he acknowledged that blow but reflected on the extraordinary work that has been done here in this field and the importance of continuing to invest.

"At a time when there's a lot of hype in the field, now is the time to double down on great, ambitious science in artificial intelligence, and to invest in the ambitious people doing it," he said.

The list of planned research chairs includes two that are related to Situated Knowledges: Indigenous Peoples and Place, which the university has identified as one of its signature areas.

"We're investing in AI and Indigenous leadership chairs to continue exploring the complex experiences Indigenous people face today," Linke said. "This includes critical work like Indigenous epidemiology, where Indigenous leaders will be guiding the use of health and genomic data."

Bill Flanagan and Cam Linke stand smiling in front of work stations, with neon Amii signs in the background

University of Alberta president Bill Flanagan and Amii CEO Cam Linke announced the creation of 20 new research chairs in AI on Jan. 31, 2023. (Supplied)

The Indigenous epidemiology chair will also play a key role in a summer internship for Indigenous students in genomics, while the other chair will explore how AI will affect the future of Indigenous peoples, reports Folio.

Six of the chairs will be related to health, on topics that include health imaging, drug discovery, drug design, biophysical machine learning, and biological cognition. Two of those chairs will be supported by additional funding from the Dianne and Irving Kipnes Foundation.

"This is just the latest example of their commitment to furthering world-class research at the University of Alberta, especially in the areas of healthcare and patient treatment," Flanagan said.

The rest of the chairs will address topics such as sustainable materials engineering, land use, robotics, quantum science, and space, in search of discoveries that can help increase food security, bring about energy transition, and increase equity.

"Some of the biggest challenges facing the world today are going to be tackled by this group," Linke said.

Amii is one of the three institutes funded by the Pan-Canadian AI Strategy through the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research (CIFAR). Linke noted that while this money is going toward research, the benefits will extend far beyond the lab.

"At Amii, we act as a translator between investing in AI research and making sure that that knowledge and talent is able to see impact in the world," he said. "Focusing on these domains, we're going to be creating a platform for new startups to be created, for targeted training to happen that will reach hundreds of thousands of learners, and for work-integrated learning opportunities to connect talent into these companies."

Correction: This story has been updated to reflect that the funding will result in 20 new faculty members at the University of Alberta, who will be eligible to be appointed as Canada CIFAR AI Chairs.