Student-led national AI conference brings ethics to the forefront

Posted on February 20, 2021


AI for Good. There’s a lot of meaning packed in this three-word theme for Canada’s leading undergraduate conference on artificial intelligence. It is also a mission statement that animates the Queen’s student team behind the Canadian Undergraduate Conference on AI (CUCAI), now in its third year.

“After two successful years establishing this conference, we wanted to dig deep with this year’s theme,” says Berkeley Wilson, Co-Chair of CUCAI. A Queen’s Mechanical Engineering student and a member of QMIND – the Queen’s student AI hub that instigated the conference in 2019 – she feels it’s time that the positive aspects of AI and engineering take centre stage.

“From advancing medical research to protecting the environment and aiding in disaster recovery, AI is already in play and creating positive outcomes around the globe,” she says. “We are welcoming hundreds of students and young professions from across Canada for this year’s conference to take a focused look at how AI is changing the world – and how we can continue to make the most of it as a positive force.”

The conference will bring an array of globally renowned speakers, including David Hayes (Sc'14), CEO of the Autonomous Vehicle Organization, Ron Bodkin of the Vector Institute, and speakers from Google, Uber, Neuralink and the World Economic Forum.

CUCAI 2021 Speakers

“Our speakers represent a breadth of industries, and also of experience,” says Max Bennett, the conference’s other co-chair and a student in Queen’s Applied Mathematics engineering program. “We’re fortunate to have them joining us, bringing insight but also a disruptive, challenging set of perspectives on what artificial intelligence is and can be.”

The conference – converted to an online format for 2021 – will continue key events from previous years, including interactive workshops with industry partners, and an AI pitch competition, where early-stage startups will compete for $10,000 in prize money to bring their AI-related business solutions to reality. A Design Team showcase will also provide a venue for young engineers and experts from across Canada to show off their innovation and accomplishments.

“While online conferences are the order of the day in early 2021, we’re genuinely excited at some of the potential this unlocks,” says Wilson. “The conference is now more accessible than ever for attendees from coast to coast, and since our work focuses on artificial intelligence and the marketplace of ideas, in some ways it’s an ideal format for many of our events. We’re even innovating with some of the traditional conference features – delivering food to delegates via Uber Eats, for instance.”

As a conference instigated and incubated at Queen’s, it’s been gratifying for the team to see its growth over the past two years as they move into its third iteration.

“The Queen’s QMIND group set a solid foundation for this one-of-a-kind conference in 2019, and each year has seen its expansion in both scope and ambition,” says Bennett. “The chance to explore a theme this year – ‘AI for Good’ – and to do that with more guest speakers from across the industry, coast-to-coast delegates in attendance, and a clear focus on the value and vitality of undergraduate students as the future of this vital area of engineering and computer research – this is what we have been working for over the past year, and we’re excited to see it coming to fruition in early March.”

Delegate applications for the conference remain open until February 25, with the conference unfolding online on March 6-7. More information is available at the CUCAI website.