A prominent alumnus, faculty and staff invited California State University, Northridge students to jump into a brave, new world March 2 as the university kicked off its first student venture competition focused on artificial intelligence (AI). In the monthlong competition, dubbed AI-Jam, students form small teams to identify and tackle a problem that can be addressed through AI technology and innovation, or the teams can select from topics posed by CSUN faculty.
At the kickoff event in the Ferman Presentation Room at CSUN’s Delmar T. Oviatt Library, alumnus and keynote speaker Michael Diamond ’88 (Engineering) urged students to dive into work in AI research, development and entrepreneurship — as the field is in its infancy and exploding with possibility.
“You, as students, are right at a perfect storm of opportunity — an opportunity to do something really interesting for the rest of your life,” said Diamond, senior director of strategic partnerships at NVIDIA, a computer hardware company that develops embedded AI supercomputers, among many innovations. “Get involved with your peers to learn how to utilize these AI tools. You can transform the world. You can transform your own life. You can transform the life of this campus. Don’t be afraid — just jump.
“You can think of AI as akin to electricity for humanity,” Diamond said. “It is going to revolutionize the way that we live and work, the way we travel. … You can be part of it, you can help make it happen, or you can wait for it to happen to you — but it’s going to happen.”
Mariano Loza-Coll, an assistant professor of biology and Faculty Technology Fellow at CSUN, opened up the event with an overview of AI, explaining that the field is developing much more than self-driving cars. Scientists and engineers are using AI in fields as diverse as healthcare, robotics, security and finance.
“AI can feed back into research for data analysis and pattern recognition,” Loza-Coll said. “For example, in my field, in the study of genomics, AI is used to study very large amounts of data — to determine patterns.”
AI-Jam is part of a larger initiative at CSUN to bridge the needs of the campus community — among teachers, administrators and students — with technology the AI industry has to offer, he said. To open professional doors for students and equip them with tools for experimenting with, building and developing AI technology, CSUN invited companies to help with the competition. Representatives from Amazon, IBM, Oracle and Microsoft — in addition to Diamond from NVIDIA — were on hand at the kickoff event to mingle with students, share information and hand out swag.
“I’m thrilled that we’re focused on artificial intelligence,” Hilary J. Baker, CSUN vice president for Information Technology and CIO, told the crowd of students at the kickoff. “It is everywhere we look, we read, we see. It’s so exciting to have all of you be a part of this here today.”
During a Q&A at the event, political science student Karina Perez said she’s excited to learn more about AI tools and applications, but she’s concerned about the amount of personal data collected by the technologies.
“It’s kind of like the Wild West — there’s no real regulation to it,” Perez said. “How do we allow the industry to grow, but at the same time keep people’s information safe?”
The AI-Jam competition is co-sponsored by CSUN Information Technology, and Research and Graduate Studies. True to the competition’s name, the timeline for the student participants is very fast. Teams must form and register by March 9, and each team’s deliverables are due March 28. All teams will participate in a showcase April 2, where they will be scored on their project’s innovation, “AI-ness” (how much artificial intelligence their project involves), feasibility and quality. Winners will take home cash prizes and can earn a place in CSUN’s iCorps Summer Accelerator Program to further develop their concepts and technology.
The April 2 showcase will take place at 2 p.m. in the Oviatt Library and is open to the public. For more information on AI-Jam, visit http://www.csun.edu/it/ai-jam.