Many of us have witnessed a change in our behaviour and lifestyle throughout the pandemic. Instead of going outside to enjoy the weather, we have been domiciled to our rooms due to social distancing restrictions. As a result, most of us have begun to rely upon technology as our primary form of entertainment. Statistics definitely indicate this drastic change, as video-sharing app TikTok passed more than two billion downloads and e-commerce sales doubled compared to last year’s quarter.
As internet usage and social media have become more popular, technology companies and student clubs are now focusing on the concept of a “circular economy.” This new approach combines both aspects of technology and sustainability to create a lifechanging product. Many retail companies, such as H&M, are in the process of integrating newer technologies to mitigate waste and minimize pollution throughout their supply chain.
However, other companies have adopted a more technologically focused solution, which indirectly impacts sustainability. Some examples of these inventions include eBuses, plastic recycling, and LED light efficiency. The goals of saving energy and plastic waste have inspired many students to follow in the footsteps of technology companies and research these sorts of problems on their own.
Many of these students taking initiative to answer such problems may be participants in ProjectX, a two to three-month machine learning competition hosted by UofT AI. With a prize pool of $70,000, over 100 participants from 25 universities are competing. Some students are researching infectious diseases, while others are focusing on natural disasters or energy efficiency. Throughout the project, experts in climate change and machine learning will guide the students to achieve their desired results. The research project challenges undergraduates to think of long-term solutions and familiarize themselves with the growing relationship between technology and sustainability.
“We believe that by requiring implementation and research of solutions, our competitors can grow as researchers and make a lasting [impact] within the field of climate change,” said Conor Vedova, the Head of the Research Team. “Our philosophy… is that undergraduate students can perform meaningful and impactful research too.”
Unlike a hackathon, ProjectX focuses on honing a participant’s research skills over an extended time period, instead of churning out new ideas within a short time frame.
Elias Williams, the Co-President of UofT AI, said that “ProjectX hopes to produce original machine learning-based research that can … help to respond to [a] changing planet.” When speaking about the short duration of a hackathon, he said that “It’s simply impossible to achieve the quality of work within a few days.”
After researching their topic for approximately three months, competitors will submit their final results in a paper with supplementary material; they will also create a video to visually present their findings to judges. The teams who receive the three highest scores will speak at an annual UofT AI conference in January.
Regardless of the result, “Competitors will provide solutions—not just ideas,” reminds Vedova.