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Artificial intelligence can do a lot to help businesses, but its dynamic, complex nature can also make it challenging to learn – which is where Stephanie Husby loves to step in.

As a machine learning educator for the Alberta Machine Intelligence Institute (Amii), the University of Alberta graduate teaches the AI for Strategy and Management course, helping non-technical managers and executives looking to adopt AI.

With AI expected to add millions of jobs and generate trillions in worldwide business value, it’s become important for companies to step up their game in using technology to gain a competitive edge, by building their capabilities and in-house teams, Husby noted.

Stephanie Husby

Stephanie Husby

“Right now businesses lack essential skills – both at the leadership and technical levels – for the development and deployment of AI solutions, so there’s a crucial need for industry to make broad investments in talent production, recruitment and retention.”

And though they’re learning all about machines, Husby knows her students are at the heart of every lesson she leads.

“On a human level, I want them to walk away feeling confident, not scared of technology, but to see concrete ways AI can help them, so they can apply it to their own organizations and their own challenges.”

AI, rather than something to be wary of, is a logical progression in how the world is moving forward, she believes.

“It’s the natural continuation of how we do business. There was the industrial revolution, then the digital revolution, which came with the rise of home computers, and AI is the next step of advancement.”

Machine learning’s pattern identification can also root out issues like bias. “That’s an opportunity to learn about our world and take a critical approach to eliminating some of those issues.”

Backed by an undergraduate degree and a master’s degree in computing science from the U of A, Husby is fascinated by the sheer capacity of machine learning.

“There’s this ability with AI to see new insights, to look for patterns in large amounts of data. The machine shows this pattern of connections, like finding out that discount store shoppers are more likely to be credit-worthy, in one case. As humans, things we might not have thought were connected are patterns we can see with machine learning.”

It’s that very strength that can be harnessed to help businesses, she added.

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“Computers have become faster and cheaper over time, so organizations tend to generate a lot of data, to the point where humans can no longer process it in a feasible amount of time. So AI is the solution to that and it helps businesses make decisions in an agile way.”

AI also has the potential to augment human performance; a recent study showed machine learning could help the accuracy of breast cancer screenings when combined with assessments from human radiologists, Husby noted.

And machines like robots can also do dirty or dangerous jobs humans can’t do, like diving deep into the Atlantic Ocean to monitor invasive fish species.

Teaching the value of AI

Corporate reluctance to learn about AI often stems from a lack of understanding of what it can really do for them, said Husby.

“It’s not a new problem. Organizations have been saying they want this new technology but don’t know how it applies to what they do, so we as educators really need to find those applicable business problems.”

The eight-week online course co-led by Husby – and produced by Amii, one of Canada’s three centres of excellence in the Pan-Canadian AI Strategy – takes a project-based approach to give graduates the ability to draft an AI strategy for their organizations, find ways to apply machine learning and work with technical teams.

“We strive in our course to make things accessible and translate the technical knowledge that can be challenging, using example-based information to show how AI can provide value. We urge them to experiment and practise with it.”

Making a human connection

To connect with her pupils, she leans on what she learned as an undergraduate student and eventual instructor at Augustana Campus, and as a graduate student earning a master’s degree from the U of A.

“I really learned about community, small class sizes, honing interests and learning. Those soft skills influenced how I wanted to approach teaching; to understand each individual has value and experience, and take that and figure out how to help them understand through their lens what’s valuable to them.”

She carried that forward to teaching jobs at other post-secondary institutions before arriving at Amii, where she became a student herself in the institute’s Machine Learning Technician Program and eventually came on board as an educator.

Being able to move past hypothetical situations posed in a post-secondary classroom to tackling concrete issues with her Amii clients is rewarding, she said.

“The real-world projects are challenging and fun, and people leave our courses feeling they have a better grasp on what AI is, and we tend to get everyone speaking the same language around AI so managers can communicate with the technical side and they bridge the gap between tech and business goals. That’s important to the success of a project.”

| By Bev Betkowski

This article was submitted by the University of Alberta’s online publication Folio, a Troy Media content provider partner.

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