Concordia lands $1.6M grant for artificial intelligence and software engineering research

Emad Shihab will lead the training program on the development and social aspects of AI systems

Concordia has earned another prestigious Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) Collaborative Research and Training Experience (CREATE) program grant, valued at $1.6 million over six years.

Emad Shihab, associate professor of computer science and software engineering and Concordia University Research Chair in Software Analytics, and his team secured the grant. The funds will support their NSERC CREATE training program on the Development, Deployment and Servicing of Artificial Intelligence-based Software Systems.

The program will bridge two increasingly important and closely tied fields: software engineering and artificial intelligence (AI).

“I’m really excited that the program doesn’t just consider the technical aspects of AI, but also the social aspects of these systems,” says Shihab, who is also associate dean of research and graduate studies at the Gina Cody School of Engineering and Computer Science.

“We as engineers always think that it’s purely technical, all about code and algorithms, but it’s not. There’s also a major focus on the ethics and how these AI systems may be biased, and this training integrates that at its core.”

‘Building real things that have a real impact’

Today, fields as diverse as finance, energy, health and transportation employ AI. Shihab says the training program aims to fill the major shortage in highly qualified professionals who can create and maintain AI-based software systems. It also provides trainees with a solid understanding of the ethical and social aspects of AI, including legal considerations as well as equity, diversity and inclusion.

Shihab is the project’s primary investigator and is joined by six other co-primary investigators, including from École Polytechnique, Queen’s University and the University of Alberta.

“I am very proud to be part of such a unique, diverse and accomplished team,” he says. Six of the seven CREATE co-primary investigators hold research chair positions, including Tanja Tajmel, associate professor and Concordia University Research Chair in Equity, Diversity and Inclusion in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.

The program is set to start in September. Its trainee recruitment, which has a goal of achieving a 50-50 gender balance, will begin soon. While the focus will primarily be on engineering and computer science students, the team also hopes to prepare the next generation of professionals ready to take on leadership roles as policymakers, entrepreneurs and professors.

“I’m a firm believer in building real things that have a real impact,” Shihab adds. “It’s not going to be just engineers. They need to understand the technical aspects, but their main focus is on the social aspects.”

‘This program lands in the right city’

Alongside AI’s technology advances, Shihab points out that there’s a big push on investment in AI. Program collaborators include the National Bank of Canada, Radio-Canada, TD Bank Group, IBM, Cisco, Ericsson and Institut de valorisation des données, a Quebec-wide collaborative institute in the field of digital intelligence. The Montreal AI Ethics Institute is another key program partner.

“This program lands in the right city,” he says. “Montreal is a hub for AI. I am delighted to have this program at Concordia, in Montreal and in Quebec because I think it further strengthens Quebec’s leading position.”

Paula Wood-Adams, interim vice-president of research and graduate studies, welcomes Shihab’s team to the growing list of diverse NSERC-CREATE-funded projects at the university.

“The innovative thinking of our researchers is something the Concordia community has always been proud of and it’s fantastic to see the incredible potential of this program getting recognized through this funding,” she says.

The NSERC-CREATE grant encourages collaborative and integrative approaches and combines academic and professional development with technical training.

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