All-coalition meeting works to ‘knit’ projects, find collaborations 

Aaron Stebner and Donna Ennis speak to attendees at the all-coalition meeting

For the dozens gathered in the room, it was more than a meeting. It was a milestone. 

“A year ago, this was all just a dream on paper. Here we are, one year later, and it continues to amaze me,” said Aaron Stebner, co-director of Georgia Artificial Intelligence in Manufacturing project (Georgia AIM). “It’s not just one person on their project, it’s all of us coming together. And that’s what I take the most pride in.” 

Stebner joined co-director Donna Ennis in welcoming the group, which represented experts in manufacturing technologies, economic development, education, cybersecurity, research and project management. In total, more than 50 gathered for the two-day all-coalition meeting at Georgia Technical Institute to tackle three main ideas: equity, collaboration and artificial intelligence. 

Funded by a $65 million grant from the federal Economic Development Administration, Georgia AIM is coordinating a network of projects across the state to connect residents with manufacturing—in particular, traditionally underrepresented populations such as rural residents, women, people of color, people with disabilities and veterans. The grant also supports efforts to reach children in kindergarten through high school and Georgia technical colleges, as well as manufacturers and innovators looking to incorporate artificial intelligence into their workflow. 

The goal, said Ennis, is to move manufacturing in Georgia into the future by increasing efficiency, engaging the workforce and creating safer, higher-paying jobs. The October all-coalition meeting was the next step in the process, with the goal of further connecting projects and teams. 

“Everyone has gone out of the gate executing their scope of work,” said Ennis. “The challenge with this, though, is that it’s 17 projects. Now, how do we collaborate and be one voice?” 

With that in mind, the group began to tackle some defining topics that would help shape their work.  

Kicking off the sessions was an opportunity for each project to present recent accomplishments and highlight recent collaborations with other projects. For example, Nwanyinma Dike, an advanced manufacturing startup catalyst with business startup incubator ATDC, a project through Georgia Tech’s Enterprise Innovation Institute, talked about the ways the group is increasing AI capacity among innovators and startups. Tim Israel, director of the Georgia Manufacturing Extension Partnership (GaMEP), explained how that group is educating manufacturers around Georgia on cybersecurity. Danyelle Larkin, education outreach manager with Georgia Tech’s CEISMC program explained the project’s efforts for scaling up entrepreneurship and technology opportunities for K-12 students. 

Other projects—some connected with Georgia Tech, others working across the state through nonprofits, economic development agencies or higher education institutions—detailed plans for mobile STEM labs, innovations in areas such as the supply chain or specific industries, training for students in cybersecurity or advanced manufacturing and mentorship programs connecting young professionals with manufacturers. 


Defining artificial intelligence 

While coalition members held a range of expertise, many acknowledged their own knowledge gap around artificial intelligence. But everyone agreed there was a need to define what it meant, common myths associated with AI and the potential opportunities it held.  

Using a collaborative, real-time meeting tool, the group brainstormed words they connected with artificial intelligence—primarily, automation, machine learning, robots and computers—and then thought about what AI means to different people. 

Facilitator Betsy McGriff with the Enterprise Innovation Institute’s Center for Economic Development Research, also a Georgia AIM partner, engaged the group in a discussion of what AI means to clients and members of the public who might be working with Georgia AIM. This means that members of the public might see artificial intelligence as a way to tell machines to do something, to simplify routine tasks or even make recommendations—often in the context of smartphones or other smart home technologies. But for manufacturers, AI might mean streamlining processes, upskilling employees or taking on dirty, dull or dangerous jobs. 


Understanding equity 

Baked into the Georgia AIM project is a sense of equity. Ennis explained that the larger goal of Georgia AIM wasn’t simply to increase the use of artificial intelligence, but rather to ensure communities across the state had access to future innovations. 

To better understand the larger issues on society that artificial intelligence may have, a team of graduate students with Georgia Tech’s Ethics, Technology and Human Interaction Center are conducting a research project. Associate professor Justin Biddle, along with postgraduate researcher John P. Nelson and professor Philip Shapira broke attendees into groups to discuss what it meant to participate in Georgia’s manufacturing economy, what it meant for the state’s manufacturing economy to be equitable and how Georgia AIM should define and assess this equity. 

“This workshop is a planning session, but it’s also part of a research project,” added Nelson. “AI may increase productivity and firm performance, but it may also require job redesign and added training, or even reduce the workforce required. It could help workers by eliminating mundane work but add other routine tasks. … The design of AI systems themselves, as well as the ways in which they are operated by firms and industries, will determine who captures gains and who might lose out.” 


Finding collaboration 

As the all-coalition meeting reached its close, a final session called on the project representatives to consider potential collaborations. Projects were paired with others—with a nod to a speed dating format—and tasked with brainstorming ways they could work together to further Georgia AIM’s mission. “The whole point is to knit Georgia AIM together,” added Ennis. 

Throughout the room, new questions began to emerge. How exactly does artificial intelligence turn into jobs? How do employees’ skill sets change? How can projects teach students and entrepreneurs about AI? 

As the pairings presented their collaboration ideas to the larger group, it was clear that the process planted more seeds than was anticipated. The Technology Association of Georgia, for example, announced its Georgia STEM Day in March—and other projects realized they could contribute. Projects involved with teaching realized they had new partners who were developing curricula. An upcoming hackathon at Georgia Tech could incorporate K-12 components and have a wider impact. 

And that, said Ennis, was the idea behind the meeting. From here, Georgia AIM projects now had a better sense of where they fit and how they could fit with other projects to pursue the larger mission. 

“After introducing our projects, we realized we were working toward a lot of the same goals,” she said. “I heard a lot of collaboration and opportunities for connection. We have all these pieces, now we have to engage these pieces into the projects.”