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Maybe artificial intelligence will notice the missing guardrail the construction workers didn’t.
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Maybe artificial intelligence will notice the missing guardrail the construction workers didn’t.
The next batch of resumés in the office might be written by AI chatbots; the food on your dinner table may come from Manitoba farmers using machine learning technology.
Artificial intelligence is pulsing through Manitoba workplaces. For some, it has become the author behind job postings and work documents.
And as businesses increasingly incorporate AI into their operations, Michael Legary, Winnipeg’s former chief innovation officer, worries Manitoba is lagging behind in AI training.
“Will we be competitive in the world marketplace? Right now, I’m concerned for that,” he says.
Meantime, post-secondary courses tackling AI are bursting at the seams with demand. Experts pursuing the technology — which simulates human intelligence — are constrained by funding.
“AI… is in the early stages of the adoption period,” says Daniel Blair, a local technology entrepreneur. “Everybody is really building this industry right now.”
Blair’s company, Bit Space Development, is working with PCL Construction on AI-equipped cameras.
MIKE THIESSEN / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS
Daniel Blair and his team at Bit Space Development are creating various products using AI for clients, such as cameras that detect unsafe work on construction sites.
“I think that we would be way behind the times if we weren’t trying to give our people an advantage to make their lives… a little easier,” says Chad Keuler, PCL’s special projects company-wide operations lead.
The cameras scan construction sites, clocking things that are “out of the ordinary” — for example, a missing guardrail — and alerting PCL staff via text, Keuler explains.
They’re still testing the technology. PCL is exploring how the cameras can be assimilated “so we can have almost… an additional set of hands or eyes… helping us make sure things go where they’re supposed to,” he says.
The industry is facing a labour shortage; an estimated 4,500 workers will retire by 2027, the Manitoba Construction Sector Council says.
Keuler doesn’t answer when asked whether AI is being considered to cover labour gaps.
“As long as everybody’s willing to keep an open mind, who knows where things could help?” he says. “I know that if things can take people less time to do, that always helps.”
“As long as everybody’s willing to keep an open mind, who knows where things could help?”–Chad Keuler
Robert Half, a human resource consulting firm, uses AI to match job applicants with postings.
The company’s system uses machine learning; algorithms learn patterns through data to predict future outcomes.
“We’ve got decades of information built into our database,” says David Bolton, Robert Half’s regional director.
Newer to Bolton are the job seekers — and employers — using AI bots such as ChatGPT to create resumés and job postings.
About 61 per cent of Gen Z workers (born 1997-2012) expect to use AI for resume writing, a recent Robert Half survey found.
Blair, from Bit Space Development, uses AI to create art and audio in video games. His system can generate 56 languages.
He created a manual for staff on how to use ChatGPT.
“My philosophy isn’t that it’ll take away our jobs,” he says. “(It can) increase the amount of work that we, as a team, can produce.”
AI is streamlining efficiency, says Jacqueline Keena, managing director of Enterprise Machine Intelligence & Learning Initiative, a Manitoba-based non-profit focused on digital agriculture in the Prairies.
EMILI’s managing director Jacqueline Keen and EMILI’s director of agri-food data stand near a weather station at Innovation Farms on Aug. 16.
She’s been in the field watching new agricultural technology get tested. The latest involves a collaboration between Canadian businesses to determine where herbicide-resistant weeds will grow before any plants emerge.
“It’s really about taking technology… (and) putting data-driven information back into the hands of farmers and agronomists to make… more productive and sustainable farming decisions,” she says.
While Keena won’t hazard a guess on the number of farms that have incorporated AI, there’s no question the number will grow, she says.
David Gerhard, the University of Manitoba’s computer science department head, believes almost every industry will be fundamentally altered by AI systems.
The Free Press couldn’t find anyone — or anything — tracking how many Manitoba businesses use AI.
Over the past year, Legary has watched “non-traditional” industries, such as construction, begin to use AI.
He became Winnipeg’s first chief innovation officer in 2017. Now, he works with businesses on artificial intelligence.
“Where we are falling behind is the education… side,” Legary says. “We find solutions that work here in Manitoba, but need to be scalable to bring to the rest of the world, and that seems to be our challenge.”
MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES
Michael Legary, Winnipeg’s former chief innovation officer, worries Manitoba is lagging behind in AI training.
He believes Ottawa should invest more into large-scale programs on AI research and development to connect Manitoba universities with businesses.
The federal government has funnelled money into AI development, says Hans Parmar, spokesman for Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada.
Parmar points to $748 million in funds that have gone to Mitacs, a non-profit focusing on AI-specific internships and projects, and $125 million to the Pan-Canadian Artificial Intelligence Agency, among others.
Legary highlights Red River College Polytechnic’s data science and machine learning diploma program as an industry collaborator. The program began roughly three years ago.
“The demand has consistently grown,” says Enoch A-iyeh, an instructor. “We have more demand than we’re able to train people for right now.”
”We have more demand than we’re able to train people for right now.”–Enoch A-iyeh
Historically, the program has taken up to 45 students a year. This fall, there will be 60 beginning the two-year program, and another 40 will start in January, due to demand.
“Pretty much every single company now wants (on this), because they have data and they need to make sense of the data,” A-iyeh says, adding he’s increasingly seeing data science engineer jobs on the market.
The school recently worked with a business, using AI, to create an app showing open parking spots nearby.
The University of Manitoba launched its own 12-week artificial intelligence: machine learning micro-certificate last winter. It accepted 24 students looking to upskill, says Rod Lastra, the university’s acting dean of the division of extended education.
Another cohort of roughly the same size will begin this winter.
“The reason why we’re… taking a very careful approach… is because we want to make sure we’re offering the highest-quality experience as possible in an environment that’s ever-changing,” Lastra says. “We have to be careful that what we are delivering is thoughtful.”
EMILI summer student Ryan Ruchkall demonstrates a drone flight over Innovation Farms in June.
The institution began work on the new credential two years ago. Since then, large language models such as ChatGPT have exploded globally, piquing a broader population’s interest.
“It’s an exceedingly sophisticated, powerful tool that has enormous potential, enormous possibility, but it also raises a lot of ethical questions,” Lastra says, adding AI will help with labour shortages by shouldering jobs requiring less skill.
The university has a computer science department and a data science degree program, both of which teach about artificial intelligence. However, there will be “a necessity to develop short-cycle learning programs” to educate on the rapidly evolving technology, he says.
Already, the AI micro-certificate has more demand than seats, he adds. The university is hosting a series of free webinars about AI and education; the first begins Sept. 22.
“The adage of learning for life is absolutely critical in this day and age,” Lastra says. “When we are granted something as powerful as what we have at the moment… I think we have a responsibility to educate ourselves.”
Universities are working to add seats to computer science programs, says the U of M’s Gerhard. The department hired six new faculty members last year as it continues to “grow exponentially.”
He believes careers involving language are at risk with the rise of AI.
“Jobs change as technology changes,” he says. “I suspect that another big shift… is coming.”
Legary considers mass job loss a strong possibility.
“It’s not artificial intelligence that takes the jobs, it’s the person defining policy and hiring that’s making those choices,” he says. “The politics of AI is very important right now.”
“It’s not artificial intelligence that takes the jobs, it’s the person defining policy and hiring that’s making those choices.”–Michael Legary
He voices concern that AI will result in workers needing to do more, because they have virtual assistance, while earning the same amount of money.
Economic Development Manitoba, the Manitoba Industry-Academia Partnership and Tech Manitoba created a strategic roadmap for AI in Manitoba from 2023-26.
The eight-page document emphasizes collaboration between industry, academia and government and increasing work-integrated learning opportunities for students.
Canada has more than 800 AI companies and 670 AI startups, according to the roadmap. The country ranked 44 of 54 countries in the 2022 Global AI Index, which ranks competitiveness in AI around the world.
Gabby is a big fan of people, writing and learning. She graduated from Red River College’s Creative Communications program in the spring of 2020.
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