Thursday, April 4, 2024

Rapid advances in artificial intelligence are posing profound questions about the future – and about us. 

Can we ensure safety and alignment within AI systems? How might AI forever transform fields like health care? What ripple effects could AI have on jobs and livelihoods, including in creative industries? 

University of Toronto researchers Beth Coleman and Rahul Krishnan  explore – and demystify – these and other topics by tapping into the knowledge of leading AI experts in What Now? AI, a new U of T podcast that launches this week. 

An associate professor at U of T Mississauga’s Institute of Communication, Culture, Information and Technology and the Faculty of Information, Coleman says she hopes the episodes help audiences make sense of new AI tools and systems by cutting through “all the noisiness and controversy that has taken over the headlines.”

“It can be complex and technical, but it’s also social,” says Coleman, a research lead on AI policy and praxis at the Schwartz Reisman Institute for Technology & Society. 

“What we do with AI makes a difference and more people need to be able to share that knowledge.” 

Coleman’s own research centres around technology and society with a focus on data and cities, AI and policy, and generative arts. Inspired by Octavia Butler’s 1980 Xenogenesis trilogy, Coleman authored Reality Was Whatever Happened: Octavia Butler AI and Other Possible Worlds using art and generative AI. 

Krishnan, meanwhile, is an assistant professor at U of T’s department of computer science in the Faculty of Arts & Science and department of laboratory medicine and pathobiology in the Temerty Faculty of Medicine. A Canada CIFAR AI Chair at the Vector Institute and Canada Research Chair in computational medicine, Krishnan and his team focus on teaching neural networks about causality, building deep learning models that analyze cause and effect from data. 

“I’m excited to co-host this podcast to explore and demystify for a broader audience AI through the lens of an accomplished and diverse set of experts,” he says. 

What Now? AI picks up where the conversation started last year by Geoffrey Hinton, the cognitive psychologist and University Professor emeritus of computer science who is known as the “Godfather of AI.” After a lifetime spent developing a type of AI known as deep learning, Hinton stepped back from his role at Google to warn about the existential threats of unchecked AI development.

Since then, there have been ongoing advancements in AI research, technological applications and policy development.

Coleman and Krishnan will tackle these and other topics with guests: 

  • Gillian Hadfield, professor of law and strategic management at the Faculty of Law and the Schwartz Reisman Chair in Technology and Society.  
  • Roger Grosse, associate professor of computer science in the Faculty of Arts & Science and founding member of the Vector Institute. 
  • Christine Allen, professor at the Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy and co-founder and CEO of Intrepid Labs Inc.
  • Andrew Pinto, a family physician at St. Michael’s Hospital, Unity Health Toronto, and associate professor in the Temerty Faculty of Medicine and the Dalla Lana School of Public Health. 
  • Nick Frosst, co-founder of Cohere, singer in Good Kid band and a U of T computer science and cognitive science alumnus. 

“The What Now? AI podcast highlights the incredible researchers at the University of Toronto who are exploring the profound implications of this transformative technology,” says Leah Cowen, U of T’s vice-president, research and innovation, and strategic initiatives. “These discussions tackle critical questions surrounding AI safety and alignment and its myriad implications across various domains. 

“The university is committed to fostering informed discussions that will shape our collective understanding of AI’s role in our society and in our future.” 

Coleman says she hopes listeners come away from the podcast feeling more grounded.

Krishnan, for his part, wants the audience to understand “that there is no one group that has ownership” over the technology” and that “the free exchange of ideas and open-source tools encourage people from all disciplines to come see how accessible AI can be, what AI can do for them and how they can advance the discourse in the field.” 

Listen to What Now? AI on AppleSpotify, Soundcloud and more.

Story by Mariam Matti republished from U of T News