Amii aims for more "collisions" at Upper Bound

· The Pulse

In an effort to increase cross-pollination at the Upper Bound artificial intelligence conference, the Alberta Machine Intelligence Institute is encouraging a bit more intermingling of its streams.

Each day was dedicated to a programming theme last year, but the themes will run concurrently at this year's conference, running from May 21 to 24, to encourage more overlap among attendees, said Amii CEO Cam Linke.

"Those collisions and conversations are what really makes the conference unique," Linke told Taproot. "It's really about having all of those things going on at once so that even more of those collisions happen between all those communities every day."

The Edmonton Convention Centre was one venue among several last year, but it will be the central hub for about 4,000 attendees this time around.

"I think we have over 160 events and different sessions this year," Linke said. "The sheer size of the conference has gone up a lot, and being able to centralize that, at least a chunk of it, in one venue was really helpful."

Upper Bound's programming is split between 17 themes related to how AI intersects with specific industries and hot topics such as responsible use and large-language models. Linke curated the Business of AI stream, including an executive AI summit aimed at equipping the C-suite and corporate board members with the information they need.

Linke based his programming choices on conversations with local and international business people on what challenges and opportunities they see, such as change management for businesses adopting AI, leveraging generative AI for customer service, and how to use AI responsibly.

"These are common themes whether you're here in Edmonton or Kansas City or wherever — all around the world," Linke said. "You're trying to figure this out as a company, as a board, and as executive leadership."

All conference programming has a technical proficiency rating from one (most accessible) to five (most complex). Linke has a few suggestions for Level 1 events. There's "Funny AI Fails and How to Avoid Them" on May 22, a session on debunking AI myths in cinema on May 23, and Upper Bound's signature party on May 23 at The Canadian Icehouse and The Banquet Bar.

"Thursday night is a great time to go out and meet a whole bunch of people, some whose technical level is going to be decades beyond yours, and some who have even less than what you may think you have," Linke said. "The ability to have conversations and just be out and interact with the very welcome and friendly community is always the best way to dig in and learn more."

Seated people watch a speaker at a podium on a stage with signs reading "Upper Bound" and "Amii."

Changes to the programming schedule and a greater focus on the Edmonton Convention Centre are meant to increase interactions at this year's Upper Bound conference by the Alberta Machine Intelligence Institute. (Michel Feist/Ampersand Grey)

Linke did not want to choose favourites among the speakers, but did name a few exciting visitors. Amii alumnus Deon Nicholas, the CEO of Forethought, talks customer experience on May 23; Jack Newton, the founder and CEO of Clio, is part of the "Disrupt, Scale, Repeat" session on May 21; and Gerri Sinclair, an Amii board member and the vice-president for innovation at the Vancouver International Airport, talks AI strategy for business growth on May 21. Representatives from Google and Microsoft will also speak. A speaker from OpenAI, the creator of ChatGPT, is confirmed, with details to be announced soon.

Amii will showcase its own team during Upper Bound, too. Richard Sutton, who announced a venture called OpenMind Research during last year's conference and got $4.8 million from Huawei in November, is part of the Continual Learning panel on May 22. He speaks alongside Michael Bowling and Amy Zhang. Other Amii researchers will discuss work on video games and large-language models, among other things.

"The week ultimately is meant to show off the incredible community that we have here, and we're one part of it, and we're certainly proud," Linke said.

The region's ecosystem outside of Amii will also be on display, including several third-party-organized community events that are free to attend. Taproot is hosting one on May 21 called "Don't let the pink slime get you," a fireside chat with Katrina Ingram of Ethically Aligned AI and Taproot co-founder Mack Male on AI's role in local journalism.

The federal budget released in April included $2.4 billion for Canada's AI strategy, of which $2 billion will be dedicated to increasing access to computing resources for researchers, startups, and scaleups. Linke emphasized the significance of investing in "compute," an essential part of training and deploying AI models.

"Compute is the biggest bottleneck right now to company growth and to research advancement in AI," he said. "The compute needs are becoming higher and higher, and for Canada, if we want to continue to lead in the area, we need to be able to have the compute capacity to be able to do that."

The budget announcement also included $400 million for several programs to help startups bring new technologies to market, equip businesses to deploy AI, and mitigate some of the technology's risks. Furthering AI adoption is also in Amii's wheelhouse, having received $30 million from the province in 2023 to help translate research into action.

Conference passes are on sale now. Tickets for the Upper Bound Party on May 23 are included with a pass but can also be purchased separately.