Fast Five with Sebastian Sardina

Dr Sebastian Sardina is a lecturer and professor at RMIT University specialising in AI. Sebastian is an expert in the field of AI, both in teaching and research and is strong advocate of Computer Science education in secondary schools. We put the following Fast Five questions to Sebastian about AI.

Why is AI important in your career?

For me, it’s important for two key reasons. Firstly, AI involves using Computers in an “active” way. This means by producing solutions to problems via computational thinking (e.g., coding), which is something I have enjoyed since I was very young.

Secondly, within the broader Computer Science field, AI has allowed me to bridge to other non-exact areas of knowledge, like Philosophy or Psychology, which was also something I was attracted to since my uni studies.

What aspect of AI are you most interested in or passionate about?

If I have to single one out I would say the modelling of “thinking” via mathematics and computation. I find fascinating the idea of “modelling” the thinking process and studying specific features of thinking to the detail, and to understand what exactly is happening and why.

In your daily life, what are the positive impacts of AI that you see playing out in our society?

AI, together with Computer Science in general, is touching every aspect of our lives, work, and societies, such as:

  • Making standard, everyday experiences more enjoyable and productive- like handling your spam emails!
  • Addressing health challenges such as diagnosis and prosthetics
  • Making our cities much more efficient and liveable through improving public transport
  • Building robots and software to support emergency management like bushfires and other natural disasters

Every day I’m so impressed and excited on how diverse the impact of AI is.

Why do you think it is important to empower young Australians with access to AI education?

To me the most important reason is to promote informed and critical Australian and world citizens. Because AI is sharing our lives, jobs, and societies in profound ways, I believe it is fundamental to understand, at a reasonable level, how AI and computer systems work, what their main ingredients are, and importantly what their limitations are.

It’s important that people don’t see AI as “magic” or unknown because this reduces our ability to question aspects of the technology or apply critical thinking. This is not to say everyone needs to be an AI expert, in the same way we’re not all journalists but still have a good grasp of current affairs, reading and writing.

What advice would you give young Australians who want to learn more about and eventually work in AI?

Firstly I’d tell these students to dare to doubt! Don’t follow a career in AI because trends suggest you should,  instead find your passion and study what interests you in this space. The rest will follow (hopefully!).

It’s important to remember that liking something and being good at it go hand-in-hand in a virtuous cycle: the more you understand something, the more you like it, the more time you invest, the more you understand, and so on. Sometimes it’s just the first steps to get the “first” understanding that may be a bit challenging and requires explicit effort, but it will all be worth it!

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