Using AI to build connections

The Forrest Research Foundation was established in 2014 to create a world-leading collaborative centre of research and scholarship. The foundation was made possible through one of the largest-ever philanthropic donations in Australian history, by Andrew and Nicola Forrest through the Minderoo Foundation. It aims to attract outstanding doctoral students and postdoctoral fellows to Western Australia and develop their potential to address the world’s most pressing challenges through research at one of Western Australia’s five universities. Forrest Scholars aim to make a difference to people’s lives by eradicating hunger, conquering disease, protecting the planet, developing new technologies and extending the boundaries of human knowledge. Here we profile some of these trailblazers.

Using AI to build connections

The words “Artificial Intelligence” are not entirely comfortable ones for many of us. Will artificial intelligence save time, or cost jobs? Will humans become lazy or redundant?

Manou Rosenberg, a Forrest Foundation Fellow working on the application of Artificial Intelligence (AI) techniques for the development of new network infrastructures for electricity networks in the world’s remote areas, believes it’s the imagery of robots mimicking more graceful but less “clever” human beings that makes some uneasy.

Manou Rosenberg

For her, AI is a tool for helping people to solve complex tasks, where standard techniques either fail or are inefficient – wasting human time and resources.

Ms Rosenberg first came to Australia from her home in Germany in 2015, as an exchange student. She was one of those who gained the rich experience and stimulation provided by agreements between universities that bring together people of different training and backgrounds, but shared interests.

In her case, that agreement was between the mathematics departments of The University of Western Australia and the RWTH Aachen University, the largest technical university in Germany and one of the leading universities of technology in Europe.

Human beings have many problems to solve. With a Master’s degree in pure mathematics, Ms Rosenberg’s interest is in the relationship between processes and applications, and the maximisation of options in the ways we approach the challenges before us.

How do we meet power needs in the most sustainable and flexible ways? There are parts of the world that are not electrified at all. There, renewable energy would be the beginning of an empowering process, not a matter of converting people to new approaches and existing facilities to new applications.

Ms Rosenberg believes that the smartest choices are most likely to follow the adventurous and thoughtful exploration of options and alternatives.

What is readily to hand? What might be? How can the sun, the winds and the waves play a role in delivering energy needs in particular places?

What is readily to hand? What might be? How can the sun, the winds and the waves play a role in delivering energy needs in particular places?

Discovering the most apt answers requires both the technical expertise of those with broad experience and knowledge, and the experiential expertise of those with immediate skin in the game. These are the locals who need affordable power and have a sense of what practical problems might be encountered.

“We still need a human eye,” says Ms Rosenberg. “But we can help the human eye to see further and wider, and deeper too.”

Building connections between electricity customers in rural and remote areas needs all the vision we can muster. Self-sufficient micro grids are a possibility, if we use every available tool to ensure that the self-sufficiency is sustainable.

Ms Rosenberg’s research – on the best ways to plan electricity distribution networks in rural areas – can help empower those living and working in areas a long way from cities with their complex and often entrenched energy networks.

Building connections with AI might well be one of the most naturally intelligent things human beings can do.

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