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AI Information-Sharing Event for the Tucson Community

In business, science and technology, there are two distinct kinds of people. In the first group, you have people who gather useful knowledge as part of their work. But then hide it away like precious coins hidden in a safe inside a gated mansion. Knowledge hoarders, you could say.

In the second group, you find people who gather useful knowledge as part of their professional work or personal interest. But instead of hiding it away, they decide to share with their community. Because they know someone will benefit. And they realize the value is in the sharing.

In Tucson, a new group, Artificial Intelligence Trailblazers, has arrived on the scene. And it falls squarely in the second category. These are individuals with useful knowledge to share with their community. A recent September 9th event they sponsored at the University of Arizona Library underscores their commitment.

AI Trailblazers members include Emre Toker, a three-exit biomedical entrepreneur, angel investor and author who has taught innovation to students and faculty nationally and internationally. Aaron Eden is an entrepreneur and business system analyst specializing in robotic process automation and artificial intelligence.

Scott Cowell is an associate professor, UA environmental science who holds a Ph.D in organic chemistry and teaches career development. Daniel Lee is an entrepreneur and graduate in computer science and economics from the UA and co-founder of HorizonMind, an emotional health company.

Connor Fletcher is an entrepreneur and neuroscience graduate of the UA who has used AI for market research and building XTRACT, a nutraceutical startup. His colleague, Samuel Rathke, is a UA lab manager with a passion for mentoring university student researchers and pushing innovation boundaries.

The group describes itself as business owners, entrepreneurs and employees who are passionate about the transformative potential of AI. Their mission is to ‘educate and collaborate on the latest AI tools and techniques. And empower those less fortunate to benefit from these emerging technologies.’

The September 9th event was entitled AI Ignition Event: Empower Your Work and Creativity. Close to five dozen people attended the hands-on business, employment and content creation workshops conducted by Eden, Cowell, Lee and Fletcher. It was a cross-section of the community in terms of age, background and interests.

In Eden’s introduction workshop, the audio visual room was packed with attendees bursting with questions on AI. He tried to defer the questions to the end of his presentation. But the participants couldn’t restrain their hunger for answers related to this new technology. So he just smiled and offered thoughtful answers in reply.

“We had about 90 people sign up and approximately 55 showed up for this first event,” Toker said. “We were anticipating a fifty-percent drop-out rate since the event was free and held on a Saturday. And we received very encouraging feedback from participants. That makes us want to hold another event in the near future.”

For educator and tech entrepreneur Toker, a core concept is automation. “Anything that can be automated will be automated by AI in the very near future,’ he says. “This is a risk for many and a potential opportunity for others. I like the saying, ‘AI will not replace you at your job. But someone who knows how to use AI will.’”

He believes workers can and should prepare themselves to benefit from AI. And not worry needlessly about losing their jobs. “Employees should think about what parts of their jobs can be better performed by AI. And develop expertise in areas that will be less likely to be replaced by AI.”

In the area of university education, he offers a personal opinion. “Universities in general seem to be more concerned about the use of AI to ‘cheat.’ As opposed to enabling students to make the best use of AI. I like the calculator analogy from a distant time.” Imagine an engineering student circa 1980 hiding a TI calculator.

When it comes to business and tech investment, he believes most investors in Tucson are smart enough to avoid being misled by rampant AI hype. His view is that founders who can find a way to generate value through the use of AI before others do, will be successful in finding investment capital for their ventures.

Toker acknowledges that there are many AI skeptics, but he remains both clear-eyed and optimistic as he surveys the larger landscape. He sees real, lasting benefits from AI in business, education and creative work that the general public should feel positive about right now in this initial wave.

“For those who put in the effort to learn how to use AI tools, AI will take over virtually all repetitious events,” he adds. “And it will assist in learning and helping to improve skill levels for a wide cross-section of employees, business owners and citizens in general.” That’s the goal: disseminating useful AI knowledge.

He compares AI to other transformative industrial and technological advances that have occurred over the last 300 years. “In my opinion, AI is a much more significant development than the Web. And will probably turn out to have as big an impact on our lives as the industrial revolution did. Perhaps even larger.”

Spoken very much like someone who appreciates the real-world value of sharing useful knowledge on this challenging thing we call artificial intelligence. As opposed to locking it up like gold coins inside a rich man’s gated mansion. Because he knows the true value of knowledge is in the sharing.

©Copyright, Jorge González-García, October 2023.