AI takes centre stage at international conference in Christchurch

How people interact with robots and virtual characters will be the hot topic at an international conference booked for Christchurch next year.

  • Christoph Bartneck and robots

    Associate Professor Christoph Bartneck has led a successful bid for the International Conference on Human-Agent Interaction in Christchurch next year.

The University of Canterbury (UC) has won a bid to host the International Conference on Human-Agent Interaction (HAI) to be held in December 2022.

Christoph Bartneck, an Associate Professor at UC’s Human Interface Technology Laboratory (HIT Lab NZ), has led the bid.

The conference, which will be held at UC’s Ilam campus with support from Tourism New Zealand and ChristchurchNZ, will attract up to 200 Computer Science, Psychology, Robotics and Design academics from around the world.

Associate Professor Bartneck says the conference covers various forms of technology that people interact with as if they have their own agency and intentions, such as robots, avatars or screen-based virtual characters, including Alexa and Siri.

“The focus is on how people interact with technology and it brings together the latest research on interaction design techniques. It’s a long-running annual conference but this will be the first time it’s been held in New Zealand.

“I’ve attended in the past and it’s really interesting and potentially ground-breaking. For it to be hosted at UC puts the university and New Zealand on the map. It’s a new area for New Zealand, but it’s a growing market and there are lots of opportunities for Kiwi companies and researchers to get involved. The world is definitely open to us.”

UC has a new AI (artificial intelligence) research group investigating topics such as artificial consciousness, AI and agriculture, and education AI. The group hosted an inaugural AI conference at UC last December.

Associate Professor Bartneck says it’s possible part of the 2022 event – likely to be three or four days long – will be held online depending on the Covid-19 situation but he is optimistic many international academics will want to attend in person.

“It’s great to have support from ChristchurchNZ and Tourism NZ and I’m very excited about planning next year’s conference,” he says.

Tourism NZ Global Manager of Business Events Lisa Gardiner says it is proud to be working in partnership with ChristchurchNZ and UC to bring such a high-calibre conference to New Zealand. “This event will both showcase our expertise in the HAI field to the world, and enrich the local community; economically through the visitors to the city, and academically through the knowledge, research and networking opportunities they bring.”

ChristchurchNZ Convention Bureau Manager Claire Hector-Taylor says the city is known for its thriving technology sector and progressive mindset.

“The International Conference on Human-Agent Interaction (HAI) will touch on many of our key areas of expertise, including manufacturing, aerospace, agri-tech and med-tech industries, and user-experience robotics in particular,” she says.

“We look forward to welcoming over 200 delegates to our city for four days of conference, functions and exploration in late 2022.”

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