Upper Bound conference offers insight into AI

Edmonton's second annual artificial intelligence conference will offer non-experts a glimpse behind the tech-world curtain as it brings industry professionals together to explore advances in the field.

Upper Bound, organized by the Alberta Machine Intelligence Institute (Amii), runs from May 23 to 26. It will include presentations on AI's integration into areas such as food production and health, a family-friendly debate featuring Rapid Fire Theatre, and a variety of demonstrations, speeches, panels, and mixers for people of all levels of AI literacy.

"It's a really low-risk way to hear from some experts and to hear more dialogue directly from the community building this technology," Stephanie Enders, Amii's vice-president of product, told Taproot. "There really is a welcoming community here, and we hope to see everybody at Upper Bound."

The conference comes at a time when public awareness of machine learning and artificial intelligence is much higher than it was when Amii ran its first AI Week in May 2022. A large language model called ChatGPT went viral after it became available for public use at the end of November 2022, and the world is both curious and concerned about its potential impact.

Upper Bound won't be shying away from these kinds of concerns, Enders said. "We need to have really open dialogues around the concerns and some of the true mitigation of risk that we need to do as we're developing these technologies," she said.

The community events at the conference are meant to help people understand how the world is changing. It's an opportunity, for example, for students to explore "the areas of study that they might be interested in in high school and university to set themselves up for a career in AI," while equipping parents to "have knowledgeable conversations at the dinner table about things like ChatGPT when it comes to their homework," Enders said.

A large crowd sits in rows under blue and purple lights while awaiting a presentation during Amii's first AI week.

Unlike Amii's first AI Week in 2022, Upper Bound is taking place in a post-ChatGPT world. (Upper Bound)

Each day has a loose theme:

  • Tuesday is on startups and venture, including a speech from Amii CEO Cam Linke on the future of AI;
  • Wednesday focuses on knowledge-sharing, which includes interactive demonstrations and examples of industry integration;
  • Thursday is a workforce and talent day, with discussions of AI and the labour market;
  • Friday wraps up with a keynote from DeepMind Alberta co-founder Rich Sutton on the pursuit of artificial general intelligence.

Last year, the event hosted more than 2,000 attendees from around the world, of which 69% identified as a member of an underrepresented group in STEM.

This year, more than 700 people from 22 countries received talent bursaries to attend, learn, and share their expertise.

"It's such a rapidly evolving field, and though we are world leaders, it would be incredibly naive to think that we could do this alone," Enders said.

Advancing the state of equity, diversity, and inclusion in the industry is a key component of the Pan-Canadian AI Strategy, which launched in 2017 as the world's first national AI strategy. Amii, which started in 2002 as the Alberta Ingenuity Centre for Machine Learning, is one of three national institutes, along with Mila in Montreal and the Vector Institute in Toronto.

All-inclusive Upper Bound passes have sold out, but free passes to community events are still available, as are $75 online passes to see all live-streamed content.