Archives for September 11, 2023

The impact of data science on workforce efficiency – A discussion with senior leaders

by Sara Elhawash

Amidst the whirlwind of rapid digital transformation sweeping across industries, we are shining a spotlight on the pivotal role that data science plays in building an effective workforce. Workforce strategies will be showcased at the Data Sciences Institute Research Day on September 27, 2023. 

The panel titled “Data Science for an Effective Workforce,” will feature data science leaders from the private sector, non-profit organizations and the government. The panel will include David Campbell, Assistant Director, Data Science Applications at the Bank of Canada; Yves Jaques, Chief, Frontier Data & Tech Unit at UNICEF; Ann Meyer, Director, BioInnovation Scientist Program at adMare BioInnovations; Mark Fiume, Co-Founder and CEO, DNA Stack, and Dana Ohab, Associate Partner, Digital & Emerging Technology at EY. Each of the panelists will bring a wealth of insight on the topic. The event presents an exciting opportunity to explore the synergy of data science and modern workforce development in a world that’s becoming more data driven. 

As industries become more complex and interconnected, the ability to harness and interpret data has become essential for making informed choices that drive growth, efficiency, and innovation. 

Yves Jaques, Chief of the Frontier Data and Tech Unit at UNICEF, extends the perspective: “Data science is borderless. It defies geographical constraints, knitting together a digitally connected workforce that is not bound by location. It gives us the possibility to bridge the digital divide by creating resilient networks that empower our national partners to scale and sustain local solutions with local talent, capitalizing on the collective intelligence of a global workforce.”   

“The Data Sciences Institute Research Day serves as a platform for delving into the intricate interplay of data science and workforce strategies. It’s an opportunity to explore how these two domains coalesce to define the future of work,” says Lisa Strug, Director of the Data Sciences Institute. 

As a multi-divisional, tri-campus, multidisciplinary hub for data science activity at the University of Toronto, DSI brings together researchers and trainees from across the University, its affiliated research institutes, industry and beyond to support data sciences research, innovation, collaboration, and training to translate promising ideas into real-world solutions and advance the data sciences, themselves.  

Research Day #DataSciencesDay, serves as a platform for this discussion. Attendees can expect to learn from these insights through the panel discussion, lightning talks from DSI researchers, poster sessions and the invaluable networking sessions that promise to enrich understanding.  

For those interested in joining in on the DSI Research Day and gaining new insights, the countdown has commenced. Register here to secure your spot. 

Data Sciences Institute Explores the Impact of Generative AI on Diverse Communities

by Sara Elhawash

As generative AI like ChatGPT and Large Language Models become increasingly integrated into our daily lives, how can we strike a balance between harnessing their potential for innovation and ensuring responsible and ethical usage? 

Funded through the Emergent Data Sciences Program competition, University of Toronto Professors Syed Ishtiaque Ahmed (Department of Computer Science, Faculty of Arts & Science), Shurui Zhou (Edward Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering, Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering), Lisa Austin (Faculty of Law), Shion Guha and Anastasia Kuzminykh (Faculty of Information), are co-leading Toward a Fair and Inclusive Future of Work with ChatGPT. 

The program focuses on the responsible development and ethical implementation of generative AI. It aims to shed light on the societal implications of using ChatGPT, with a particular emphasis on its impact on diverse communities. By gaining a deeper understanding of the social and ethical aspects of generative AI, the program seeks to empower researchers and users to make informed decisions and employ responsible practices when utilizing these technologies. 

It will feature a series of talks, discussions, and participatory design sessions involving individuals from various backgrounds, including students, instructors, practitioners, academics, and artists.  

“We recognize the profound influence of generative AI technologies on diverse communities. Our program seeks to bridge the gap in evaluation frameworks and provide a platform for diverse voices to express their experiences and insights. By fostering inclusivity and promoting ethical considerations, we aim to empower users and researchers to navigate the responsible use of generative AI with confidence,” says professor Shurui Zhou 

Activities of the program include events that will provide a platform for diverse perspectives and experiences with ChatGPT, workshops and public-facing meetups to foster inclusivity and encourage open dialogue, with a focus on amplifying the voices of minority communities. Academic workshops will be co-located with major conferences, such as the Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI), Computer-Supported Cooperative Work & Social Computing (CSCW), and Neural Information Processing Systems (NeurIPS), to disseminate research findings and engage with a wider audience. To ensure ongoing interdisciplinary discussions and knowledge sharing, the researchers will create a repository of videos, talks, and posts, hosted on the Data Sciences Institute’s website, related to the societal implications of generative AI. 

A course syllabus module to educate students about the ethical considerations surrounding generative AI will also be developed. One of the unique aspects of the program involves students at the University of Toronto engaging in year-long projects that incorporate the use of ChatGPT within their workflows. This practical experience will enable students to share their findings and lessons learned through a poster presentation, contributing to collaboration and knowledge exchange. 

As the program kick starts its activities, Professor Shurui is conducting an interview study to understand how large language models (LLMs), such as ChatGPT, might affect the practices of scientists and research software engineers to collaborate and develop software. To participate, visit our website here. 

Recipients of the DSI Emergent Data Sciences Program competition are funded for their programs which foster the development of innovative data science methodologies, deep connections with computation and applied disciplines, new training programs, collaboration, knowledge mobilization, and impact beyond the academy. 

“This Emerging Data Science program is driven by a shared mission to assess the societal implications of generative AI. Together, we aim to create a robust framework that promotes trust, accountability, and transparency in the AI ecosystem, ensuring that these technologies benefit all members of society,” says David Lie, Associate Director of Thematic Programming & Data Access at the Data Sciences Institute. 

Data Sciences Institute brings together Data science and Causal inference for better policy recommendations

by Sara Elhawash

In an era where data-driven insights fuel innovation and inform decisions, policymakers and stakeholders increasingly seek guidance in research from various areas such as criminal justice, health, and labour law. However, the wealth of data gathered to understand human behaviour can lead to misguided recommendations if not approached appropriately during the analysis phase. This challenge has inspired the question: How can we elevate the quality of data analysis to better inform decision-making? 

Funded through the Emergent Data Sciences Program competition, University of Toronto Professors Linbo Wang (Department of Statistical Sciences, Faculty of Arts & Science, University of Toronto Scarborough), Gustavo J. Bobonis (Department of Economics, Faculty of Arts & Science), Ismael Mourifié (Department of Economics, Faculty of Arts & Science), and Raji Jayaraman (Department of Economics, Faculty of Arts & Science), are co-leading Bringing Together Data Science and Causal Inference for Better Policy Recommendations.  

The program promotes cross-disciplinary exchange and collaboration among experts in data science, causal inference, and applied research. Its overarching mission is to influence the landscape of data sciences by advancing the state of the art in causal inference and its applications to real-world policy problems. The program aims to tackle key challenges in data science, including algorithmic fairness, bias from confounding variables, and the need for more robust statistical inference methods. 

The program aims to achieve this by creating an inclusive forum for discussions across diverse disciplines. Here, researchers will get to share their research questions, data limitations, and challenges related to causal methods. Experts in data sciences and causality will introduce new and existing methods, encouraging the pursuit of research goals. Applied researchers will present key limitations informed by practice, jointly addressing the barriers to using current methods in solving policy problems of our time. 

Featured activities include three workshops and a lecture series on causality. In these workshops, data scientists, causal inference experts, and empirical researchers collaborating with policymakers convene to present their work. The lecture series focuses on sharing the state of literature with a non-specialized audience. The first workshop, Forging a Path: Casual Inference and Data Science for Improved Policy, is scheduled for November 10-11.  

“Our collaborative effort will enable us to address pressing policy questions with a newfound depth, ensuring that data-driven decisions are rooted in robust causal understanding,” say Professors Ismael Mourifié and Linbo Wang. “We look forward to working alongside fellow experts to drive meaningful impact in both academia and policymaking.” 

Recipients of the DSI Emergent Data Sciences Program competition are funded for their programs, which foster the development of innovative data science methodologies, deep connections with computation and applied disciplines, new training programs, collaboration, knowledge mobilization, and impact beyond academia. 

“This Emerging Data Science program exemplifies DSI’s commitment to fostering collaboration and innovation in data science research. It reflects our dedication to addressing complex challenges at the intersection of data analysis and real-world policymaking. We are confident that this initiative will have an impact,” says David Lie, Associate Director of Thematic Programming & Data Access, Data Sciences Institute. 

DSI Receives Grant from Sloan Foundation to Shape the Future of Virtual Reality

Testing out an Augmented Reality headset at the 2023 DSI Data and the Metaverse workshop.

by Sara Elhawash

As the world of virtual reality (VR) continues to expand, untapped possibilities await exploration, bringing with them numerous unanswered questions. The Data Sciences Institute (DSI) has been awarded a grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation to delve into the realm of VR technology and its profound implications for human interaction and communication. This award builds upon the foundation laid by the DSI Data and the Metaverse workshop held earlier this year at the University of Toronto Mississauga (UTM) spearheaded by Prof. Bree McEwan, DSI Associate Director UTM. 

This grant serves as a beacon of support and recognition for DSI’s commitment to pushing the boundaries of knowledge and innovation in the data sciences. This award stands as a testament to its potential to drive groundbreaking research and foster collaboration across disciplines to support a thought-provoking exploration into the domain of social interactions within mediated environments, encompassing the multifaceted world of VR, augmented reality (AR), extended reality (XR), and mixed realities (MR). 

Co-led by Profs. McEwan and Sun Joo (Grace) Ahn, Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Georgia, the grant will provide critical support for the Questioning Reality: Explorations of Virtual Reality and Our Social Future conference in 2024 that will bring together leading scholars, industry professionals, and enthusiasts to collaboratively shape the future research landscape of VR.   

Moreover, the grant will serve as a catalyst for generating a Debates in Digital Media edition focused on Virtual Reality and its associated data and will fund five mini-grant research projects. These projects are designed to propel the field forward through innovative research endeavors. 

“We’re entering a critical phase of discovery that will not only enhance our understanding of technology’s impact but also drive the responsible development of immersive experiences,” says Professor Ahn.  

There is a lot more flexibility in the metaverse than in the real world, Ahn continues. “In the metaverse, people can change their identity or their perspectives. They can really play with that dimension of both time and space by traveling to the past or to the future. We are interested in generating a body of knowledge that is very new examining how people use emerging technology,” says Professor Ahn. 

Professor Bree McEwan emphasizes, “We’re laying the groundwork for the future of virtual reality research, where the synergy between scholars and industry experts shapes the very essence of the future of immersive communication. With DSI’s leadership and the Sloan Foundation’s support, we’re creating a platform for researchers, designers, and industry experts to come together and drive the discourse on social interaction within virtual reality.”  

This grant intends to ignite fresh perspectives and innovative ideas by initiating conversations right at the beginning of the research cycle. In doing so, DSI aims to pave the way for a dynamic exchange of insights that will decisively shape the trajectory of VR and augmented reality (AR). 

The timing of this research is particularly significant, as the growing presence of VR and AR in society raises practical and ethical challenges. Experts in social interaction research and human communication will collaborate to explore the seamless integration of these technologies into our lives, while considering privacy, identity formation, social presence, and safety. 

The Sloan Foundation, a not-for-profit, mission-driven grantmaking institution, is instrumental in making this possible “VR and AR technologies have the potential to reshape how we interact as individuals, groups, and as a society,” says Joshua M. Greenberg, program director at Sloan. “What’s needed now is to further develop a research agenda and to ensure that academic researchers have the technical access to study these changes.  We’re excited to support DSI’s efforts to help bring the research community together on that shared journey.” 

DSI seeks to fuel pioneering research endeavors that delve into the intricate dynamics of human interaction within mediated immersive environments, fostering collaboration across disciplines and between academia and industry and organization.