Thursday, November 28, 2019

In a commentary in The Lawyer's Daily, Prof. Gillian Hadfield writes about the potential for Toronto to be a leader in artificial intelligence (AI) research and the role of the new Schwartz Reisman Institute for Technology and Society at the University of Toronto in establishing that leadership ("How Toronto and Canada can lead global AI revolution for good," November 27, 2019).

Read the full commentary on the Lawyer's Daily website, or below.


How Toronto and Canada can lead global AI revolution for good

By Gillian Hadfield

November 27, 2019

From the rise of deep fakes to concerns around cybersecurity, biased algorithms and robots taking our jobs, it is clearer than ever that new technologies, which hold so much promise for humanity, are also fraught with profound challenges.

Rapid developments in AI and machine learning are outpacing our political, legal and social mechanisms to respond. We are only now starting to address the privacy issues created by social media platforms that were launched 15 years ago. In the meantime, companies like Facebook are already on to the next development, such as facial recognition, as well as the techniques to outsmart it.

But, as in the agricultural and industrial revolutions, technology in the Fourth Industrial Revolution remains a means to an end, and the end must ultimately be a world that is better, safer and fairer for us all.

If we are to have any hope of guiding and achieving this, though, our understanding of humans, our values, social structures and regulatory systems must quickly catch up with our understanding of machines. The alternative is that we might all be left behind, hostage to technology that has forgotten its purpose.

Only with a deeper understanding of how we can build processes that can keep up with technology will we be able to shape the future in a way that best serves us.

This is the proposition behind a new initiative at the University of Toronto that is breaking ground, literally and figuratively, this month to begin a new chapter in machine learning and machine understanding — as well as in our understanding of machines.

The Schwartz Reisman Institute for Technology and Society, which opened its doors in July, is not only the vision of business leaders and philanthropists Gerry Schwartz and Heather Reisman. It is also the natural manifestation of Toronto’s history as a progressive and inclusive technological pioneer.

Since breakthroughs in deep learning at the University of Toronto by this year’s winner of the Turing award Geoffrey Hinton and peers Yoshua Bengio and Yann LeCun, the city has been a dynamic and innovative place on the forefront of new technology.

More jobs in technology were created in Toronto in 2017 than any other North American city, meaning we are at Ground Zero when it comes to the developments that are quickly transforming the way the world works.

But as donors Schwartz and Reisman recognized, being at the forefront of the digital age also carries the responsibility for developing the scientific techniques and social, legal and regulatory frameworks needed to ensure new technologies remain aligned with our common values and goals.

I came back to Toronto after 30 years in California for the opportunity to work alongside leading AI researchers and innovators, such as those at the Vector Institute and the Creative Destruction Lab, and be best placed to research and develop the guiding principles for responsible, responsive AI.

And after three decades in what many think of as the epicentre of innovation in Silicon Valley, I was also drawn to Toronto for its inclusive approach to progress. We are a place where nobody thinks that technology owns the future and where people have not given up on the idea of smart policy or smart governance to ensure no one is left behind in this revolution.

As well as the city’s reputation for computer science and innovation,Toronto is an agile space in which to develop and refine the systems needed to best keep pace with and harness new technology for good.

And now, as we prepare to break ground for the Schwartz Reisman Centre for Innovation, a stunning new building in the heart of Toronto which will house the new institute alongside the city’s most dynamic innovators and researchers, I am excited to be a part of this new vanguard in effective, cross-disciplinary research and concrete solutions to some of our biggest challenges.

I am also hugely optimistic for the work we will be doing at the institute. Our goal is to ensure that groundbreaking developments in science and technology are matched with groundbreaking research from the social sciences and humanities to give these great advances the best chance of being good for all humanity.

And as polarized as we may find ourselves, in Canada and especially in Toronto, we understand what it means to be inclusive.

We are a country that attempts to give everyone a place, a sense of value, a sense of being cared for and a sense of community. As we strive to build AI systems and other powerful technologies that are aligned with human goals and values, this compassion will be essential.

AI development has overtaken the ability of “normative systems” — social norms, culture, regulation, law — to regulate and respond to innovations. Our social sciences and humanities are not keeping up, meaning the rules of the game are getting away from us.

The mission of the institute is to help guide responsible and responsive technology, not just for Toronto and Canada but for the planet.