We were all moving around the virtual showcase like characters in a retro video game. ‘Up arrow’ to walk forward. ‘Right arrow’ to walk right. Bump into another avatar to talk to them by video. Teleport to another room. Go invisible. It was the first annual British Columbia showcase on Artificial Intelligence and it was legitimately fun !
Using the platform Gather, the “Emerging Technologies: BC's AI Showcase” had thought leaders from academia and industry, as well as students, easily interacting, conversing, attending talks and transporting themselves room-to-room, learning and sharing everything to do with AI.
A well-designed event
The event attracted an astounding 700 registrants, and had been carefully designed and orchestrated over many months by a team of organizers from the Centre for Artificial Intelligence Decision-making and Action (CAIDA). It included CAIDA staff member Arynn Keane and UBC’s Biomedical Imaging in AI (BMIAI) staff member Danielle Walker, as well as faculty members Purang Abolmaesumi, Bhushan Gopaluni and Leonid Segal. Leadership came from CAIDA Director Kevin Leyton-Brown and CAIDA member Michiel Van de Panne as well as sponsorship from BMIAI, the Faculty of Science, and the Faculty of Applied Sciences.
Various ‘rooms’ were set up for attendees to teleport into and watch the speakers by video conference. Approximately 200 attendees gathered for each session, and took advantage of the opportunity to ask questions to the presenters.
Numerous disciplines already employing AI
There were three streams: Health, Manufacturing, and Fundamental Science (including UBC Computer Science), a poster session featuring BC’s prominent AI graduate students, and a panel discussion with keynote speakers. Each of these sessions can be viewed on CAIDA’s website, under“Emerging Technologies: BC’s AI Showcase.”
UBC Computer Science Professor Frank Wood spoke about deep probabilistic programming, and Professor Mark Schmidt spoke about the relationship between academic and industrial efforts toward machine learning. There were also speakers from Amazon, Borealis AI, the Digital Technology Supercluster, BC Ministry of Health and 1QBit.
“The showcase demonstrated how much talent and industry interest there is about AI within British Columbia,” primary organizer Arynn Keane said. “There are so many partnerships between industry and academia, and this conference highlighted the breadth of those opportunities.”
Kevin Leyton-Brown moderated the panel discussion which wrapped up the event, and relayed “I really enjoyed moderating the panel, which highlighted the growing ways academic work in AI is already impacting healthcare, mining, ecommerce, and government in British Columbia.”
Another similar conference is already being tossed around in the planning committee for next year or sooner. Given the success and entertainment factor of the video game-esque format, alongside ever-expanding AI opportunities in BC, we’re sure to attend something even more spectacular, COVID-19 or not, in person or not.