Durham’s AI Hub building the future

Collaborating at the AI Hub at Durham College. Photo credit: Chronicle file photo

Co-written by John Elambo

Durham College (DC) is creating and improving artificial intelligence. Not in the Blade Runner sense, but adding value to society.

DC’s Hub for Applied Research in Artificial Intelligence for Business Solutions (AI Hub) is serving a growing community of local businesses. These businesses come to the AI Hub with problems in their industry. The AI Hub then solves them using artificial intelligence.

The director of the AI Hub, Ali Hirji, says the first achievement of the Hub is, “we work directly with industry partners…not only are we able to assist them, but we help them explore new ideas and we also teach them about implementation that they would not have considered.”

The AI Hub is currently finished or working on 20 such projects, with another 10 lined up for the future.

“It’s a very aggressive and substantial amount of projects. Clients come from fields as diverse as health-care, finance, real estate and client services,” Hirji says.

For example, iCare Home Health, a provider of home care for ill or elderly patients, worked with DC students to create their Health Espresso app. This app monitors a patient’s vitals, including blood pressure and heart rate. It features a “virtual caregiver” to remind patients of appointments and medication.

These features were designed by Durham College students. Each project is run by a faculty member, but it’s not a classroom.

“Our students get hired to deliver on these projects,” Hirji explains. “They work to deliver these projects to industry.”

The teams work in practical, hands on environments. The goal is to create a true-to-life workspace. As many as 30 students are working in the AI Hub.

Hirji says the Hub has several major development focuses. In layman’s terms, this means they are focusing on applying and expanding AI’s sensory abilities. This is known as “narrow AI”. It is the direct application of AI technology to specific tasks. Conversely, general AI involves machines that can process a great many tasks, more in line with human consciousness. This is still many years away, says Hirji.

“Many of these projects are using natural language processing, which is a domain within AI to respond to a particular voice command,” he says. “Object detection is at the core of what we deliver on.”

In addition to working on current AI projects, the Hub is interested in launching workshops to connect with remote and rural communities, and create “knowledge mobilization workshops,” their version of “TED talks”.

The first tech talk is at Durham College on Oct. 29. It will focus on AI in special needs education. The speaker is Tushar Singh, the CEO of Minute School, a Waterloo-based startup that uses an app to teach students quickly. Any Durham College or UOIT student can register to attend.