Reflecting on 2 years of the 3A Institute

By 3Ai Director, Distinguished Professor Genevieve Bell

Picture of ANU School of Cybernetics

Written by: ANU School of Cybernetics
14 Nov 2019


Distinguished Professor Genevieve Bell
Distinguished Professor Genevieve Bell

The 3A Institute at the Australian National University is 2 years this week. That means we are already two years into our mission to establish a new branch of engineering to manage artificial intelligence safely to scale. WOW!

This time last year, I was standing on stage at the Shine Dome in Canberra, launching the first ever graduate program in that new branch of engineering — we didn’t know what to call it, we just knew we needed to get started. So we asked for help.

And help came!

We had a huge response to our call for applications. And 3 amazing sponsors, KPMG, Macquarie Group and Microsoft, came on board to support scholarships for our first cohort, in that first experimental year.

Our students arrived

February saw 16 incredibly diverse and talented people join us on campus — full of anticipation — and we celebrated in style with our sponsors and co-conspirators from around Australia.

The 3Ai Masters program is unique — it is a prototype, a research project, and an immersive, transformative experience. You can get a glimpse of the kinds of things the students are getting up to here.

There have been so many stories via our students already. Just one of those is Kathy Reid, whose assignment, SenseBreast, was covered by the ABC.

Sign Unveiling

Building our network and ways of thinking and being

Our faculty has grown too. We welcomed 2 amazing team members — Professor Alexandra Zafiroglu and Andrew Meares, and there are more on the way. Our unique multidisciplinary team approach was documented in a profile of research fellow, Ehsan Tavakoli Nabavi, in Nature. We explored different ways into the tech conversation — a highlight being bringing Ada the Show to Australia for the first time, together with our sponsors. Another was helping to bring the Hopper celebration to Australia for the first time, with Hopper Down Under in Brisbane in July.

Over the last 12 months we have started to articulate the intellectual framework for the new branch of engineering. A few glimpses of what we’ve been working on have appeared online:

We have all stood on countless stages, around Australia and around the world, to share the 3Ai mission, and we are undertaking qualitative research with various partners around emerging cyber-physical systems.

So what’s next?

We are currently recruiting our second cohort of Masters students — we had another wave of amazing people apply! We are still iterating on that curriculum and feeding the learnings into the toolkit for our new branch of engineering.

We are deeply committed to diversity and to equity of access, and to the widest range of voices being present. The 3Ai Masters program will always seek unexpected and underrepresented people to participate, teach and learn.

We are working on short-form educational offerings emerging from the testbed of our Masters. We’ve delivered these to a handful of organisations, and there will be more.

And we are starting to work on what professional standards in this branch of engineering should look like — more on that soon, with some exciting announcements to come.

What’s really important

The world is moving fast, as it always has. The global conversation about AI shifts and changes. ‘AI ethics’ is almost a household word where 3 years ago it was all about ‘data is the new oil’. What stays the same is that we have a duty to build the future we want to see. And that requires more people in the conversation, not less. AI is about people first, technology second.

That was, and remains, the reason we at the 3A Institute are here.

You are on Aboriginal land.

The Australian National University acknowledges, celebrates and pays our respects to the Ngunnawal and Ngambri people of the Canberra region and to all First Nations Australians on whose traditional lands we meet and work, and whose cultures are among the oldest continuing cultures in human history.

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