In search of the good life with artificial intelligence. That was the AI & Us* Convention 2021

Two days, eleven hours of program in almost 40 sessions – with a huge variety of topics the 3rd KI & Wir* Convention discussed at the 26. and 27 November 2021 the question “(How) Can We Learn Artificial Intelligence?”. The event, coordinated by the Halle-based association science2public, brought together actors from a wide range of disciplines and an average of 150 participants from the general public on a virtual platform. The convention thus set new impulses for a competent handling of artificial intelligence in everyday life.

The fact that a good life with AI is possible was outlined right at the opening of the convention by Eva Wolfangel, science journalist and AI expert, in her keynote speech: accompanied by many practical examples, she illustrated how artificial intelligence is already making our everyday lives easier by taking over repetitive tasks and thus allowing more time for creativity. “However, where life experience and world knowledge are required, AI reaches its limits,” Wolfangel said. “If we keep this limitation of AI in mind, it can bring us a bright future.” Afterwards, State Secretary Bernd Schlömer from the Ministry of Infrastructure and Digital Affairs of Saxony-Anhalt, which is also the initiator and sponsor of the convention, highlighted the potential of AI in data-driven administration.

On both convention days, a diverse program with a mix of conference and workshop contributions showed in which everyday and professional scenarios AI is already being used. For example, in the office as part of the Smart Office, when cataloguing art objects in a museum or when sorting waste in the recycling process. But the potential of AI also became apparent as a means of artistic intervention and as a tool for first creative attempts of one’s own, for example in the development of a poetry chatbot by young people. Especially in the interactive workshops on the second day of the convention, it became clear that experiencing and experimenting with artificial intelligence forms the basis for understanding it. The numerous hands-on activities encouraged the participants to train intelligent applications, create fake faces, try out AI learning tools or make music with AI and gain practical experience.

Even if the core question of the 3rd AI & We* Convention, to what extent artificial intelligence can be learned, could not be answered with a universal statement, there were two significant findings at the end: First, that the acceptance of systems that use learning algorithms is essential. On the other hand, it remains indispensable to constantly question their decisions with common sense. In addition, the interdisciplinary character of the convention demonstrated that not only the tech industry can and should answer pressing questions on the topic of AI, but that this is a task for society as a whole, to which companies, universities, schools and other institutions should make their contribution.

In keeping with the convention’s declared goal of setting new learning impulses, new paths were also taken in the technical implementation of the digital event. For the first time, the event took place in a virtual world specially developed by the initiator science2public e.V., which deliberately left the paths of the familiar Zoom conference. The convention participants walked as digital avatars through a virtual 3D-modelled venue, consisting of several session rooms, a forum and a gallery. Although the innovative digital experiment presented some technical challenges, it proved to be a timely way to implement it given the pandemic situation. Nevertheless, the organisers hope that in the long term it will be possible to return to an analogue event format, which will make the workshop and DIY formats in particular even more lively and sustainable.