Don't opt out: click here to learn more about our work.

Rotman hosts AI industry leaders for machine learning conference

Alibaba president, Sanctuary AI founder among speakers discussing the future, impacts of technology

Rotman hosts AI industry leaders for machine learning conference

The Rotman School of Management’s Creative Destruction Lab hosted 24 of the world’s leading artificial intelligence (AI) researchers, business leaders, economists, and thinkers on October 23. The “4th Annual Rotman Conference on: Machine Learning and the Market for Intelligence” featured discussions of AI and the impact it will bring to the future of business, medicine, and numerous other industries.

Ajay Agrawal, the founder of the Creative Destruction Lab, and Shivon Zilis, the project director of Tesla and Neuralink, co-chaired the 11.5-hour event. Among the speakers were Alibaba — the world’s largest online retailer — President Michael Evans, Governor of the Bank of England Mark Carney, and U of T Emeritus distinguished professor Geoff Hinton. Despite their unique perspectives, one message was clear: machine intelligence will revolutionize how we think about solving problems.

The event began with talks from leaders in the international business sector on why industries worldwide are rapidly adopting machine intelligence into their business practices. Kevin Sneader, Global Managing Partner at McKinsey & Company, explained how monumental AI will be toward optimization and efficiency. Sneader said that he expects “mainstream absorption” of AI within the next decade. Evans showcased Alibaba’s automated distribution facilities powered by intelligent roving robots and its multitiered corporate strategy to adopt AI.

The speakers made it clear that businesses see the huge potential upsides associated with smart automation, but none discussed the issues that AI adoption may bring to the labour force or customer data responsibility.

Many industry pioneers dream of closing the gap between human and artificial intelligence, and they want you to know that the results don’t have to parallel dystopian sci-fi. Suzanne Gildert, CEO of Sanctuary AI, is building sentient, fully autonomous robots powered by the next generation of AI.

The artist-turned-technologist said that designing the first generation of synths with realistic human bodies will allow them to interface with our human world. Debates around the treatment, regulation, and integration of robots into human society are still very unresolved, but Gildert hopes that AI will push humankind to new heights. Citing the possibilities to create hyper-empathetic, creative, and intelligent minds, Gildert emphasized her optimism for the future of AI.

She ended her talk with a fascinating, albeit slightly terrifying, demo of a robotic clone of herself, complete with a matching silicon body and voice capabilities.

Perhaps one of the more sobering talks of the day was given by theoretical physicist and former president of the Santa Fe Institute Geoffrey West, who discussed the “socioeconomic entropy” that comes with chasing innovation. Despite the optimism of other speakers and the crowd in light of continued innovation and growth, West cast doubt over humanity’s ability to support sustained accelerated innovation.

Based on his research into the scale of companies and human networks, he suggested an underlying futility to the aspirations of the field. This alternate perspective brought a human context back to the event; if we don’t understand how we grow, we are doomed to collapse under our own weight.

PHOTO BY NIKHI BHAMBRA/THE VARSITY

The lower floors of the event hosted Toronto AI companies, who demonstrated their latest and greatest tech. Dozens of startups and corporations presented their efforts to integrate AI into solutions for specific industry problems, highlighting the extent of AI adoption.

TD commits $6.7 million to Rotman initiatives

Bank funds research in data analytics, health care, behavioural economics

TD commits $6.7 million to Rotman initiatives

TD has announced three financial contributions to U of T’s Rotman School of Management. The donations consist of $4 million to establish the TD Management Data and Analytics Lab, $2.5 million to become a founding member of the Creative Destruction Lab’s (CDL) Health stream, and approximately $200,000 toward the Behavioural Economics in Action at Rotman (BEAR) centre.

Speaking of donations generally, Ken McGuffin, Rotman’s Media Relations Manager, wrote in an email to The Varsity that this type of support allows Rotman “to invest in innovative academic and experiential programs, provide door-opening scholarships to students in need, support research by our faculty and much more.”

TD Management Data and Analytics Lab

The bulk of TD’s financial contributions will be used to fund the establishment and staffing of a new data analytics lab at Rotman. This lab will provide Rotman students with a greater range of resources for research in data and analytics, including funding workshops, hackathons, and guest lectures.

The research output coming from this partnership will remain in the public domain. The partnership is “about the general public good and [TD’s] ability to work with students,” according to Christian Nelissen, TD’s Head of Enterprise Data and Analytics. Nelissen added that Rotman “has a terrific brand reputation” and that it is “very much aligned into what [TD is] trying to do and how we think about future of data and analytics and the respective roles in that.”

“Rotman is a great partner because… their job is to build the managers of the future and to broaden out people’s horizons and… the broader capability around data analytics,” said Nelissen.

Toronto ranked as the fourth best North American city in CBRE’s 2018 tech talent markets report, and Rotman’s increased research funding is expected to add to the city’s growing tech sector.

TD further hopes that fostering this strong partnership with Rotman will encourage more graduates to work for the bank. This is an equally valuable outcome for Rotman. “The support of TD and our other partners… in providing internship, employment, and other learning opportunities is tremendous. Experiential learning is a key part of many of our programs,” said McGuffin.

The partnership is for an initial five-year period. Nelissen described it as “more than just a commercial relationship,” and as one that will continue to develop over time. “We also have to make sure that Rotman grows and develops and gets to do what it wants to do,” he said.

The $4 million contribution follows TD’s $1 million donation to the Rotman Financial Innovation Hub in Advanced Analytics last year, which helped develop new classes and learning opportunities in financial innovation, including workshops and scholarships.

CDL Health stream

TD’s $2.5 million pledge to the CDL makes it a Corporate Founding Member of the CDL Health stream, which focuses on biotechnology, bioinformatics, diagnostics, and digital care. The CDL “merges science-based projects with business expertise to help young companies scale-up into creators of new jobs, processes, and services,” according to its website.

In March, TD launched the Ready Commitment, which sets a $1 billion target for philanthropy by 2030 to “support change, nurture progress, and contribute to making the world a better, more inclusive place.”

Andrea Barrack, TD’s Vice-President of Global Corporate Citizenship, considers work with the CDL as important to fulfilling the Ready Commitment. “We’re a large bank… but we don’t have enough money to actually solve all of the health care issues that are out there. And so what we’re looking for is, what can we fund that would be catalytic in its impact?” she said. “What can we do in health care to actually make it more accessible to the patient and make it easier to access? And so I think that was the CDL.”

Startups in the Health stream will attend five in-person objective-setting sessions between October 2018 and June 2019. Startups that address health-related issues at any level of development will be considered for inclusion in the stream. The Health stream currently operates at two of the CDL’s six locations: one at U of T, and the other in Vancouver. Barrack added that there is a “huge growth plan and certainly massive interest,” and that TD wants “to be able to significantly contribute to [the CDL] being able to scale and meet the demand [for health startup incubators].”

Artificial intelligence (AI) developments and startups flourish within the CDL because it provides a longer incubation period, according to Tomi Poutanen, TD’s Chief AI Officer and a founding fellow of the CDL. Unlike “incubators that you race to create a pitch… [at the CDL], over a nine-month period, you get coached and find a market and are able to build a business,” he said, Poutanen noted that with over 100 AI companies operating through the CDL, it is recognized as the largest AI venture accelerator.

This partnership is also for an initial five-year period. “We want to contribute in the way that we can, but it’s not a quid pro quo for us, right? When we use our philanthropy, we believe in the potential impact of that project. We want to be able to be helpful to that, but we don’t ever put ourselves in a decisioning role around what goes forward or not,” said Barrack.

BEAR centre

TD has been working informally with Rotman in the development of its Discovery Tool, a survey that identifies an investor’s ‘Wealth Personality.’ Investors answer a survey relating to their personality and preferences, as well as their financial plans, to allow TD advisors to identify financial blind spots.

The survey is an example of behavioural economics, and it is used to “further examine and research the underlying emotions and behaviours that drive financial decision making,” according to Rotman’s press release.

David Terry, TD’s Vice-President of Wealth Segment Strategy, said that TD Wealth identified Rotman as a top school focusing on behavioural economics in Canada. “[BEAR] has some of the best minds as it relates to behavioral economics and behavioral finance in Canada. We value that expertise, academic research, the approach to parsing through data.”

The partnership, which covers an initial two-year period, will specifically allow TD to adapt BEAR’s behavioral economics research and apply it to benefit TD clients and advisors. “There will be probably some areas where [TD] will want some exclusivity for a period of time, but the reality is, a lot of this should benefit Rotman’s future thinking in terms of how they can apply this across industries, let alone financial services,” said Terry.

Editor’s Note (October 21): This article has been updated to clarify a quote from Ken McGuffin.

Virtues: could they be the key to political influence?

New study shows virtuous politicians more successful leaders than those prone to vice

Virtues: could they be the key to political influence?

It has been debated for centuries whether political leaders who exhibit cold and calculating traits are more likely to succeed than those who are empathetic. A recent study, co-authored by Christopher Liu from the Rotman School, might shed light on this dispute. The study shows that politicians who tend to be more virtuous make more effective leaders. 

The researchers focused on two competing models of influencing people. The model is based on the idea that virtuous qualities make a leader more influential, and a more Machiavellian model, where what they call ‘vices’ play the dominant role. The goal of the study was to see how these two social strategies affected political leaders’ abilities to influence their peers after taking on a leadership role.

The researchers examined videos of 151 US senators from different political parties and congresses who were active between January 1989 and December 1998. They watched the first minute of each randomly selected video to detect exhibitions of virtues or vices in the senators. Coding guidelines, based on standard behavioural traits, were used to assess the verbal and non-verbal behaviour of the senators for vice and virtue. The data collected was compared with the number of colleagues the senators recruited as collaborative co-sponsors on bills that they created. The correlation data enabled the researchers to make inferences based on behaviour.

The research found that senators with virtuous behaviour, when promoted to a committee chair role, were more likely to get other congress members to co-sponsor proposed legislation. On the other hand, senators exhibiting vices were no more influential, and in some cases less influential, than they were before getting the leadership role. Leaders who value others garnered more support from colleagues, while those who were manipulative, self-centred, or competitive did not.

This begs the question: could a politician prone to vice simply fake being virtuous to gain support? Liu says that while attempts to fake virtuous behaviour might happen, it is extremely difficult to mimic all of the associated behaviors effectively. In the case of the senators included in the study, Liu says it would be very difficult for them to maintain a false behavioral profile across such a long time period.

“There are so many behaviors to control — verbal content, vocal cues, nonverbal behavior, and emotional expression,” said Liu.  “One’s true personality is likely to be revealed, even if a person tries to conceal it.”

The researchers also found that there were not many correlations between education and age with the possession of vice or virtue. They also found no correlation based on party affiliation, suggesting that vice or virtue are personality traits independent of political ideology. 

While decoding behaviour may sound like a complicated task meant for seasoned researchers, everyday voters are capable of picking up on important cues too.

“For example, courageous individuals are more likely to speak loudly and emphatically, express their emotions freely, and do not engage in speech hesitations (um, ah, er),” explained Liu.

Considering politician’s virtue may be rewarding for voters, as virtuous elected officials might care for their supporters and make more progress in government. 

“I do believe that [the research] may apply to present-day politics, but I would be cautious in extending it to Canadian politics,” said Liu, explaining that Canada’s parliamentary system is very different from the US legislature.

Liu’s next project will be investigating influence dynamics within the US Senate through language use.