McGill Innovation launches AI For Social Good Summer Lab for women


McGill Innovation is launching a one month Summer Lab in collaboration with McGill Reasoning and Learning Lab that will teach technical concepts in machine learning , in addition to digital product development and design applied to a specific social problem.

The program, which will take place June 5th-30th, is exclusive to female-identifying applicants and will feature a machine learning curriculum with weekly mentoring sessions with machine learning researchers, members of the Montreal tech/startup community, and subject matter experts.

“I had been thinking a lot about inclusion and diversity in the context of innovation and also, being someone that’s worked in the tech industry for a long time, being excited about the potential for artificial intelligence in Canada,” Angelique Mannella, Associate Vice Principle of Innovation at McGill told MTLinTECH. “Seeing across the country we have research strengths and then in particular in Montreal we have research strengths in our artificial intelligence and two of our lead researchers happen to be women and isn’t that a great thing?”

The researchers Mannella is referring to are Doina Precup and Joelle Pineau, both leading researchers in artificial intelligence (AI) at McGill who have been instrumental in getting the program off the ground. In January Microsoft gifted the university with $1 million for AI research after acquiring Montreal-based Maluuba, a deep-learning research startup. Indeed the city has been gaining a notable reputation in the AI field over the past year. The new Summer Lab program couldn’t come at a more opportune time.

“Looking at research strengths, at our amazing female researchers, and a belief that the tech industry needs to transform itself a little bit to be more open and inclusive. All those three things together, I thought it would be interesting to launch a summer program as one of  a series of initiatives that will be launching specifically to target inclusion and diversity in tech research and development,” said Mannella.

The plan is to accept 20 participants, and as of this past weekend there are already 18 applicants. Individuals should be undergraduate, graduate, or industry practitioners with advanced prior training in mathematics and computer science.

“The first two weeks are full-time. The first week is a course in machine learning, which will be very intensive, and then the second week focuses on product development and user experience applied to a specific social challenge. Then the final two weeks are to work on a prototype, that’s more free time. There will be mentors that have office hours everyday, but its more flexible.”

The program will culminate in a hackathon open to anyone and aimed at solving a designated social problem.

“The hackathon is one part of the program where we wanted to ensure that, while the program is currently only open to female participants, the power of machine learning and AI applied to a social challenge needs lots of people of all different backgrounds to think about and to work on solutions. So we wanted to keep that open to anyone and everyone from Montreal and outside of the city that wants to participate.”

Applications will be open until April 17th. Any female-identifying individual from across Canada or internationally can apply.

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