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AI vs. Humanity panel discussion comes to Concordia

“Let’s Talk: AI” series hosted by Concordia student groups encouraged re-thinking of common ideas around artificial intelligence.

At 6:00 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 6, the School of Community, Public Affairs, and Policy studies (SCPA) and the Engineering & Computer Science Association (ECA) of Concordia came together to co-host a panel on artificial intelligence (AI) titled Let’s Talk: AI Vs Humanity. Moderated by Margie Mendell, professor with Concordia’s SCPA and co-founder of the SCPA 301 course, the panel discussion focussed on the future of AI use and its implications for society.

The panel consisted of Suzanne Kite, an interdisciplinary Indigenous artist and academic, and entrepreneurs Thierry Lindon and Vincent Boucher. Lindon is the co-founder of the Federation of African Canadian Economics and Happily.ai, and Boucher has worked with developing the applications of AI since 2002, with Montreal.AI and Quebec.AI.

“It’s such an important topic,” said Mendell, discussing the pertinence of the panel. “Until recently, people were either dazzled by AI or terrified by what it could possibly do to our lives and societies. The reality really depends on the ability to regulate it,” she said.

As the first American Indigenous artist to use machine learning in her works, Kite’s perspective of AI is shaped by her indigeneity. “[My PhD at Concordia is] basically all the ways that my [Indigenous] community makes relationships now with non-human beings,” she explained.

“I started interviewing lots of elders, lots of community members, and it became clear that in my community and in probably every community all over the world, there’s almost nowhere you can’t find a community or village or a family that has a relationship with a non-human being,” Kite said, before touching on the kinship many individuals feel with their non-human companions.

Boucher’s experience in technology has shaped his perspective on AI and artificial general intelligence (AGI) as a tools to be used for economic development. “I see it as the second industrial revolution,” he said. AGI refers to a kind of artificial intelligence that is able to learn how to do human tasks.

“I’m developing an AGI agent that is able to look at a screen and have access to a keyboard and a mouse and is able to do any kind of task that a human can do,” he said. “People should have AGI agents that are working for them, advancing their capabilities, and developing new business to create wealth.”

Lindon similarly sees AI as a technology to be used for the betterment of society. His work has involved building an algorithm that searches the internet for funding opportunities for underrepresented groups. “We match entrepreneurs, non-profits, institutions, and municipalities with money based on their unique profiles and needs,” he said, describing his work.

Although Lindon is interested in using AI as a tool for social change, he acknowledged that it may be relatively inaccessible for marginalized communities right now. “Black people and Indigenous people have been on the short hand of the economic playing field that is Canada,” he said. “We make sure we’re leveling it.” 

Despite these differences in the applications of AI, all three panelists expressed hope for the future of AI. “I see AI as fire, it can burn you or it can warm you,” Lindon concluded.

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