Applications close May 31 for Amii’s AI program for women and gender-diverse people

Amii
Women make up only 32 percent of the AI workforce; Amii wants to change that.

The Alberta Machine Intelligence Institute (Amii) has opened applications for the second edition of its Kickstart Program. Applications are due May 31.

“Diversity is key to an equitable and inclusive, AI-driven future, and that begins within corporating a multitude of perspectives into the field.”
– Warren Johnston

Delivered across nine weekly online sessions from June to August with some additional in-person events, the Kickstart Program aims to guide women and gender-diverse individuals as they pursue careers in artificial intelligence (AI).

The initiative provides participants with networking opportunities, mentorship, as well as introductions to machine learning tools and concepts, types of AI careers, and personal branding. Participants can also expect to take part in demos, and attend workshops and social events intended to expand their knowledge and professional networks.

In its first year, the Kickstart Program was restricted to undergraduate-level women. A spokesperson for Amii told BetaKit that it saw a “great deal” of interest from recent grads and those returning to work after a prolonged break. Because of the responses it received, Amii decided to broaden the program requirements to create more access for those considering a career in AI. The spokesperson added that 80 people participated last year.

Gender gaps are more likely to occur in sectors that require disruptive technical skills, such as AI, according to the 2021 World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Report. It found that women make up 32 percent of the data and AI workforce, and that figure has seen a mild decline of 0.1 percentage points since February 2018.

Amii noted that diversity is particularly critical when designing systems for public use, as AI can amplify biases and perpetuate discrimination. Reuters reported in 2018 that Amazon scrapped its AI-powered recruiting tool that showed bias against women. The company’s computer models were trained to vet applicants by observing patterns in resumés submitted to the company over a 10-year period, and most of those applications came from men. In turn, Amazon’s AI engine penalized resumés that included the word “women’s” and it downgraded graduates of two all-women’s colleges.

“Diversity is key to an equitable and inclusive, AI-driven future, and that begins within corporating a multitude of perspectives into the field,” says Warren Johnston, product owner, talent at Amii. “Through Kickstart, we are enabling women and other underrepresented genders to become AI practitioners and connect with an active AI community-it’s about providing them with an entry point to explore incredible careers in AI.”

RELATED: Alberta government launching internal AI lab powered by AltaML

As one of Canada’s three centres of AI excellence under the Pan-Canadian AI strategy, Amii is an Alberta-based non-profit institute that supports research in AI and machine learning. It was created in 2002 as a joint effort between the Government of Alberta and the University of Alberta. Since its inception, Amii claims that it has increased its research capacity in AI and machine learning by nearly nine-fold, starting with four co-founding members at the University of Alberta and now funding the research of 28 fellows and eight Canadian Institute for Advanced Research (CIFAR) AI chairs at universities across western Canada.

From its inaugural edition last year, Amii claims that many of the Kickstart Program alums have gone on to find internships in the AI sector, participate in world-leading programs such as the A14 GoodLab, and gain employment opportunities in local startups, traditional companies, and AI labs. One of the program’s notable alumni is Sacha Davis; they are currently the co-president of the Artificial Intelligence in Medicine Student Society.

Amii launches the second cohort of the Kickstart Program as the Alberta government continues to invest in AI as part of its innovation strategy, allocating $30 million CAD over the next three years dedicated to support AI research and development in the province.

The province is also set to launch GovLab.AI, its first public AI lab meant to create technology and provide work experience to graduates. Led by AltaML, with support from Mitacs, the lab will create pilot programs that could potentially be commercialized and turned into internal government products or products that can then be sold or exported.

Featured image courtesy of Amii.

Charlize Alcaraz

Charlize Alcaraz

Charlize Alcaraz is a journalism student at Ryerson University and a staff writer for BetaKit. Follow her on Twitter @charlizealcaraz

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