The Pulse: June 2, 2023

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A bearded man speaks at a podium to a full audience in a pink-lit room

Alberta AI pioneer plans new research institute in Edmonton

By Shayne Giles

As part of his continuing quest to achieve human-like artificial intelligence through reinforcement learning, Richard Sutton plans to develop OpenMind Research, a non-profit group dedicated to implementing the Alberta Plan for AI Research.

"It's such a longstanding goal of mankind to understand how we think and improve ourselves… so far as to create new beings that are as intelligent and powerful as we are now," Sutton explained during the final keynote speech of the Upper Bound AI conference, organized by the Alberta Machine Intelligence Institute (Amii) from May 23 to 26.

OpenMind would build on the work done at the recently closed DeepMind Alberta office, which Sutton co-founded with Michael Bowling and Patrick Pilarski in 2017.

Sutton, a Canada CIFAR AI chair and chief scientific advisor at Amii, seeks to create what he called Agent AI, which differs from the Tool AI that has recently gained prominence through Large Language Models like ChatGPT and the open-source 3D protein imaging database AlphaFold.

"They're not powerful by themselves, they're powerful when used by a person," Sutton said of Tool AI.

Agent AI is able to learn, adapt, and overcome challenges based on experience, not unlike teaching a human. In Sutton's conception, Agent AI is created of humanity, like a child, rather than against it.

"We include the possibility that (Agent AI) might teach us something fundamental," Sutton said. "Just as we expect our children, as they grow up, might teach us something fundamental."

While the concept of an autonomous artificial intelligence might be daunting, Sutton suggested fears it could cause the extinction of humanity are unfounded.

"It won't be a utopia, good things and bad things will still happen, but mostly good things," Sutton said. "AI won't change that. It might change which good things happen and which bad things happen."

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Headlines: June 2, 2023

By Kevin Holowack

  • The fire ban for Edmonton was lifted on June 1, which means residents can once again use backyard fire pits and BBQs, cooking stoves, and backyard smokers that use wood and briquettes. The city reminded Edmontonians that backyard fire pits must meet specific requirements and that you need a permit to do open burning. You also need a permit to buy, store, or use fireworks.
  • In an emailed media statement, Mayor Amarjeet Sohi responded to Premier Danielle Smith's comments on May 30 that she would create a council of UCP candidates who lost in Edmonton to advise on local issues. Sohi said Smith is "free to seek advice from her party members" but emphasized that they "don't have the mandate to speak on behalf of Edmontonians." That mandate, Sohi said, is "vested in duly elected Edmonton city council." A statement from Smith's office said no decisions have been made on the matter. It didn't indicate whether the council would be taxpayer-funded. Brendan Boyd, a political scientist at MacEwan University, said giving unelected candidates a consulting role is rare in Canada. It would be problematic, he said, if Smith's council had direct involvement in decision-making. Angela Duncan, a director and vice-president of Alberta Municipalities, said Edmonton was "very clear that they want the NDP values, they want the NDP platform" and that the governing party should consult Edmonton's elected MLAs.
  • Trisha Estabrooks, chair of the Edmonton Public Schools board said the board's top concerns in working with the new UCP government are improving the funding formula for students and ensuring the construction of new schools. "The last four years have delivered tough budget after tough budget for a big division like Edmonton public, and we need that to change," she said, adding she would have liked to hear more commitments to public education during the campaign. Sandra Palazzo, chair of the Edmonton Catholic Schools board, echoed that its priorities are capital projects and student funding.
  • On May 31, the city's subdivision and development appeal board heard from Boyle Street Community Services about its planned King Thunderbird Centre at 100 Street and 107A Avenue as several organizations appealed the development permit granted in March. After hearing concerns, Boyle Street agreed to a series of conditions and explained that the centre is envisioned not as a drop-in shelter but a place where people in need of health-related services can access treatment, advice, and facilities. The Chinatown and Area Business Association changed its position and now says it is willing to accept the project. Some speakers at the hearing urged the city to overturn the development permit and highlighted their concerns about the impact of social disorder on students of Victoria School. The appeal board must make a ruling within 15 days. This is the second appeal of Boyle Street's permit. The board overturned the original plan in November 2022.
  • Edmonton park rangers and emergency services are reminding residents to practice river safety when on or near the North Saskatchewan River this summer. Zain Haji with the city's park rangers department said the city and police "continue to find that many people using the river are not in compliance with boating safety regulations," which "puts them and others at risk." According to a release, fire services rescued 75 people and animals on or near the river last summer, and park rangers rescued 11. As of May 18, there have already been 44 "rescue events" on or near water in the city.
  • Edmonton's outdoor pools season began with Fred Broadstock Outdoor Pool and Queen Elizabeth Outdoor Pool opening in May. The Oliver Outdoor Pool will open June 3 and the Borden Natural Swimming Pool on June 10. The Mill Creek Outdoor Pool will be closed this season for rehabilitation and is expected to reopen in 2024. In a release, the city said this will be the first year since "recent funding restraints" that four pools will be open for the whole season from May to September.
  • The Hawrelak Park Rehabilitation Project will continue as planned in spite of opposition that was sparked when the city released information showing trees could be at risk as a result of the construction. During a June 1 urban planning committee meeting, councillors did not propose any changes to the planned renovation work at the park while hearing from administration about the tree management plan, however city staff said they would be more proactive in sharing information about the impacts of future projects. "I emphasize having more transparency in the process overall, recognizing how much Edmontonians care about the river valley," said Stephanie McCabe, deputy city manager for urban planning and economy.
  • The University of Alberta placed seventh worldwide and second in Canada on the latest Times Higher Education (THE) Impact Rankings, which assess universities against UN Sustainable Development Goals. Last year, the university placed 11th internationally and third nationally.
A dancer in a rainbow-hued leotard and a rainbow tutu twirls with a girl wearing Pride socks and a lei at an outdoor event

Weekend agenda: June 2-4, 2023

By Debbi Serafinchon

Festival season is in full swing, with Pride celebrations along with Nextfest and the Nuova Vocal Arts festival. The weekend also promises a chance to commune with nature, a salute to cargo bikes and active transportation, and a tour of solar homes.

Find even more things to do in the Arts Roundup and the Food Roundup.

Photo: Fruit Loop's family-friendly block party on June 3 is one of several events celebrating the start of Edmonton's Pride Month this weekend. (Fruit Loop/Facebook)