By Christabel Polacco, MAGG Student

Global Affairs Canada’s Artificial Intelligence and Human Rights Student Symposium, held in Ottawa on April 18, gave us the unique opportunity to experience a day in the life of a real policy maker. From getting to present our own projects and recommendations to GAC’s Advisory Board and fellow students of AI, to presenting collaborative ideas to Deputy Ministers, the whole day was filled with incredible, potentially once-in-a-lifetime opportunities. I mean, who gets to spontaneously present to a Deputy Minister?!

Though we had only three hours to collaborate with the other students in our breakout groups, it was an experience genuine to what policy makers do everyday. It was great to be doing something practical and see what comes of our classroom discussions. Having GAC’s Digital Inclusion Lab members as our facilitators – Salahuddin R. in my group’s case – was a real asset because, in that short time, they taught us how to structure our presentations to reach the ears of the Deputy Minister. We had to make our presentations short and sweet but still have all the relevant information that a Deputy Minister would need to make an informed decision about what we were recommending.

It was a challenge, that’s for sure. We had to stay on track, but make sure all the relevant points were being highlighted, which lead to a couple of helpful debates within the group. We discussed ethics, privacy, bias, accountability, and labour rights in our group – all incredibly big topics. Truthfully, I was surprised but very proud for the fact that we pulled through and got our ideas organized in time to present to Erin Kelly (President of Advanced Symbolics), Ian Shugart (Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs), and Alan Bernstein (President of the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research). The feedback from the three of them was priceless and helped to inform our group’s research and expand our understanding of Artificial Intelligence and its implications for our lives.

The whole day was a lot of fun and provided real-world opportunities that we are otherwise missing in the classroom. It was an amazing experience that GAC and the Digital Inclusion Lab provided to our group, the other BSIA groups, and every other student who participated in the Symposium.