Monday, July 24, 2023

Shaping the future and exploring innovation through the AI Governance Hackathon

by: Joey Ou

Students at the University of Waterloo know that we are in a rapidly evolving world where artificial intelligence (AI) technology is reshaping schools, workplaces, and entire industries. With the rise of ChatGPT and other AI software, it has become essential for the world to critically think about AI governance. To address this pressing concern, the Grebel Peace Incubator helped sponsor a student-led hackathon on the topic of AI Governance on July 8, 2023 at Conrad Grebel University College. First-year engineering student Madhav Malhotra organized this day-long hackathon with a total of 20 engaged participants. These University of Waterloo students aimed to inspire classmates from diverse academic backgrounds to reflect on the implications of current AI policies, identify gaps, and propose innovative solutions for a more secure and responsible AI-driven future.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        

Realizing that the pace of change is not being addressed adequately within academic circles, Madhav initiated the first ever WatGov Hackathon. This event was an opportunity to address issues such as preventing illegal uses of AI, stopping the spread of misinformation, and mitigating the potential misuse of AI for harmful purposes. Participants in the hackathon were pushed for fresh perspectives and ideas to ensure that AI policies effectively and positively influence the direction of this powerful technology. Given the rapidly evolving capabilities of AI algorithms, it is essential to consider societal impacts and create comprehensive policies to ensure responsible use.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             

In addition to the Grebel Peace Incubator program, Madhav found support for the hackathon from various mentors, including Rebekah Pullen, a Research Assistant with Project Ploughshares. A Core Collaborator in the Kindred Credit Union Centre for Peace Advancement, Ploughshares’ work is aligned with the hackathon’s goals of monitoring advanced technology and promoting peace collaboratively. “At the end of the day, this isn’t fundamentally just a technical problem or a social problem,” Madhav said.It’s a little bit in the middle.”                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            

Looking to the future, Madhav is intrigued by the intersection of cybersecurity and AI. “I'm really worried about [how] to prevent AI algorithms with offensive cyber security capabilities... without humans in the loop, he emphasized. He also stressed the importance of considering the broader implications of AI in the context of weaponry and urged the international community to collaborate on a comprehensive AI governance framework.                                                                                                                                                             

“You try nine things, eight of them will fail, but this one happened to be the one that didn’t,” said Madhav, in reference to the successful hackathon. He encouraged students to speak up bravely and actively participate in discussions about AI governance. Madhav also had some essential advice for students. For technical students, he emphasized going beyond the surface-level understanding of how to simply ‘make it run. Instead, they should consider the reliability and long-term societal impacts of their creations. As for non-technical individuals, he encouraged them to be brave enough to ask technical peers about the AI issues that concern them, even if the conversations involve a lot of uncertainty and unknowns, and to participate in discussions with fresh perspectives that can drive meaningful change.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         

The AI Governance Hackathon was an inspiring initiative that encouraged students to think critically about the implications of AI technology in their lives. “As the world increasingly comes to rely on AI, it is imperative that we establish robust policies and frameworks that prioritize safety, ethics, and the greater good of society, reflected Centre for Peace Advancement Director Paul Heidebrecht. Madhav's initiative exemplifies the potential for young minds to shape a responsible AI future.Paul went on to note that the hackathon resonated with the Grebel Peace Incubator’s interest in fostering PeaceTech initiatives, where students are encouraged to think critically and constructively about technical problems in the world.”                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 

In addition to the Grebel Peace Incubator and Project Ploughshares, the WatGov Hackathon received support from the University of Waterloo’s Effective Altruism Club, Wat.AI, and the Waterloo Artificial Intelligence Institute. Congratulations to the winner, Tanishi Naik, who explored “AI and Healthcare: Improving Cancer Diagnoses and treatment of marginalized people.