Athlone Selected as Hub for National Conversation on Artificial Intelligence

Artificial intelligence (AI) was once the preserve of science fiction presenting either imaginative or nightmarish visions about the future; today it is a reality and increasingly a major part of our daily life. While many people are excited about the promise and potential of AI, others are confused and concerned. How will it transform our world and will it be for the better? Will it change how we work and make some jobs obsolete? Is there a danger that it will take over our lives? These are all legitimate questions. ADAPT researchers at TUS and the Advanced Technologies in Manufacturing (ATIM) cluster are collaborating to deliver an exciting programme of events entitled ‘Discuss AI’ to explore the world of artificial intelligence and how it will shape our future.

A key element of Discuss AI is a ‘citizens’ think-in’ on AI in the Radisson Hotel, Athlone, on 11 November 2021 as part of Science Week. Members of the public are invited to join local software companies, ADAPT researchers from TUS: Midlands (Athlone campus), to discuss everyday technology like voice assistants, smartphones and fitness trackers. What impact do these devices have on our lives and on society as a whole? What are the implications of emerging AI innovations such as these? Members of the public can join this discussion forum in person or online.

The majority of Irish people agree that those who will be directly affected by scientific research should have a say in how it develops, Discuss AI aims to do just that. The initiative is designed to bring together local technology business leaders and researchers to engage citizens of the Midlands in a conversation about AI and its impact on all our lives, from the devices we carry to how individuals can have more control over where our personal data ends up. The discussion outcomes of this session will aid researchers and tech leaders understand public opinion on technological advancements and can help steer the future direction of research in this area.

Discuss AI events will run in conjunction with Creating Our Future, a new Government-led initiative launched recently by Taoiseach Micheál Martin. Aimed at every section of society, it seeks to engage everyone in conversations in communities across the country, answering questions and generating ideas for research. As part of this Citizen Science initiative, Discuss AI seeks to engage with national public audiences in all aspects of human-centric AI to inform research and knowledge of how AI can impact our lives into the future. No previous knowledge of AI is required in order to participate.

Dr Niall Murray, an ADAPT-funded investigator based in TUS: Midlands (Athlone campus), said: “AI technologies are already a core component in many digital systems which serve us, adapting to individual needs to improve the user experience across a wide range of contexts such as notifications, learning and health applications among many others. As such, with any frontier technology, there are opportunities and challenges. At ADAPT, we are conscious that the choices technologists make as well as the way in which AI is governed will have effects on society. As researchers, we want to consider a wide range of inputs and perspectives into the advances of these new technologies. Discuss AI will give all people, regardless of their knowledge of AI, an opportunity to discuss and provide inputs into how it can impact our future.”

Speaking about the initiative, Caitríona Mordan, cluster manager at ATIM (Advanced Technologies in Manufacturing), said, “As technologies become more affordable, companies of all sizes are using AI to automate tasks, increase efficiencies and take their operations to a new level. The Midlands is home to some of the leading technology companies which provide solutions, such as AI, to support other companies grow. The tech companies from the cluster will help bring an industry perspective and facilitate the discussions between citizens and researchers during this event”.

Director of science for society at Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) Dr Ruth Freeman said, “SFI is currently working with the government to drive public engagement in research more broadly through the Creating Our Future campaign. We look forward to working with our partners in the Creating Our Future team, ADAPT and the Government to grow public interest and understanding of the impacts and benefits of AI technology on our everyday lives.”

Highlights from the Discuss AI programme of public events include: 

Citizens’ Think-Ins

A series of nationwide citizens’ think-ins invite members of the public to consider a number of scenarios relating to AI and discuss some of the outcomes and real-life impacts that can arise from these new technological advancements. A number of think-in events will take place from September to December 2021. This includes a special national think-in during Science Week 2021 in November, which will see citizens, researchers and AI industry professionals participate in simultaneous connected think-ins around the country, all coordinated from TUS Midlands.

 Debunked

Our Debunked workshops are a practical introduction to how to apply simple techniques to verify the information we see online. AI and data have led to a change in how we digest information. How can we tell if we’re taking in the correct information as we browse? Can we be sure that the graphs and images we are presented with were designed to present the information in a non-biased way? 

AI in My Life

AI in My Life engages TY students in a dialogue around the societal implications of emerging AI innovations. The teacher-led module was co-created with transition-year students, DCU Access, ADAPT and Lero researchers to ensure that the content resonates with students and their concerns about AI. Through a series of interactive, thought-provoking resources, TY students will explore how research can ensure that AI is inclusive of everyone. Interested teachers or schools can email anne.kearns@adaptcentre.ie for more information. 

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