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Inaugural AI summer school a huge success for Al Akhawayn University

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Inaugural AI summer school a huge success for Al Akhawayn University

Al Akhawayn University (AUI), in partnership with MoroccoAI, has staged a world-class AI summer school, inviting a select group of 50 students, graduates, and professionals to its campus in Ifrane, Morocco, for an immersive five-day series of workshops, presentations and Q&A sessions focused on the latest developments in AI.

The event took place from 17-21st July, 2023, and provided a unique opportunity for attendees to collaborate with eminent AI researchers, scientists and mentors, while also developing their knowledge and skills in cutting-edge advanced machine learning systems.

Al Akhawayn University President, Dr. Amine Bensaïd, welcomed attendees and highlighted the growing importance of AI knowledge for young people seeking outstanding careers.

He said: “Demand for student peer tutoring is in decline for the first time in Morocco and the US, and the hypothesis behind this is that ChatGPT is the cause.

“There are certainly issues around the potential for regulation of AI, but first of all you need to be empowered to take advantage of it before any serious actions are taken.”

Salah Al-Majeed, Dean of AUI’s School of Science and Engineering, added:

“AI has quickly become an integral part of nearly every industry, igniting innovation and propelling research, but it also presents new and unexpected challenges for leaders and employees at all levels.

“Learning how to best harness these new technologies is essential for countries, organisations and individuals seeking competitive advantage, sustainable development and improved growth.

“Morocco is at the forefront of this approach and our first AI summer school has proved to be a transformative experience for all those attending.”

The summer school placed special emphasis on several AI themes of growing importance, including:

  • Machine learning and deep learning, which teaches computers to process data in a manner inspired by the human mind and recognising complex patterns in pictures, text, sounds and other data.
  • Foundation models, a type of AI tech using vast amounts of data in a wide range of tasks, such as chatbots, code writing and image generation.
  • TinyML, otherwise known as ‘small machine learning’ was discussed as part of a focus on machine learning solutions and alternatives to cloud computing.
  • Efficient Machine Learning, a rapidly growing evolution in computer science and data processing that aims to optimise machine learning models and minimise carbon footprints.

Speaking on the subject of ‘efficient machine learning (ML),’ AUI graduate and IBM researcher, Kaoutar El Maghraoui, said:

“There are many innovations happening in ML, but it is also important to look at the potential ill-effects, so that we can avoid negatively impacting young people’s minds.”

Hafsaa Ouifak, a second-year PhD student from Mohammed VI Polytechnic University, said:

“I’m very glad to be part of this AI summer school. It’s been such a pleasure to meet experts from Morocco and around the world. In Morocco we have great human, technical and economic potential but we are dispersed, so having opportunities like this to bring the AI community together makes us stronger by sharing ideas and creating new projects and opportunities.”

Ahmed Jaafari, a tech entrepreneur and AUI graduate, commented:

“The AI summer school offers a great opportunity to meet with AI experts from around the world, and share in their experience and knowledge. We’ve discussed state-of-the-art machine and deep-learning models, and it’s been a pleasure to interact with other Moroccan AI enthusiasts and discuss ideas that really help push our nation forward.”

Yassir Bendou, a second year PhD student from IMT Atlantique in France, noted:

“Being part of this summer school means belonging to a community that shares its love of Morocco and passion for AI. It has been a great honour to be part of this. I firmly believe that this kind of event will help us move from being consumers of AI, towards becoming greater innovators in the area.”

Asmaa Mourhir, lead of the AI Summer School organizing committee and also a speaker at the event, concluded:

"This AI summer school at AUI has proved to be a very special initiative, contributing extensively towards capacity-building for AI in Morocco, and training scientists and practitioners who can build, deploy, maintain and govern AI solutions at scale.”

“The event has exceeded all of our expectations and left participants inspired and equipped with cutting-edge knowledge in AI.”

“I would like to thank all of our attendees and expert speakers who collaborated on hands-on projects exploring diverse AI topics ranging from large language models, graph neural networks, and federated learning, through to diffusion models, applications in natural language processing and computer vision.”

“We have received overwhelmingly positive feedback and high demand for future gatherings to further develop the use of AI in addressing Morocco’s most pressing regional and local socioeconomic challenges. This is a challenge we will happily accept.”

On the final day, AI summer school participants showcased their projects to a panel of judges, with prizes totalling 20 000 dhs being made to select teams who showcased how their AI ideas could best advance Morocco’s ambitions for social good.

The winners were:

1st prize: 10,000 dhs offered by engage-ai, an NGO working to support the use of AI for Sustainable Development to ‘Safeguarding Morocco's Water Resources: Monitoring and Regulating Unauthorized Wells to Preserve the Precious Underground Water’ – with team members: Aziz Tamma, Badreddine Saleh, Mohssine Bourzik, Yassir Bendou and Fatima-Zahrae Nakach

2nd prize: 6,000 dhs to ‘Automating Administrative Reforms in Morocco: Deep Learning for Efficient Arabic Text Digitisation and Data Entry’ – with team members: Adnan Anzoula, Fatima Zahra Qachfar, Abdelaziz Bounhar and Ahmed Jaafari

3rd prize: 4,000 dhs to ‘Pavescan: Improving road safety through road maintenance’ – with team members: Hajar Zaiz, Meryem Jabrane, Soufiane Lamchoudi and Amal Elamrani