Alona Fyshe awarded a spot in Edify Edmonton's Top 40 Under 40

Alona Fyshe: Photo Credit by Aaron Pedersen, Courtesy of Edify

Each year, Edify Edmonton (formerly Avenue Magazine) handpicks 40 individuals out of hundreds of nominees who have demonstrated the highest levels of achievement and impact. We are proud to share that this year, Amii Fellow, University of Alberta Professor and Canada CIFAR AI Chair Alona Fyshe has been awarded a spot in the Top 40 Under 40.

Alona conducts research at the intersection of machine learning and neuroscience. As AI becomes more integrated into our daily lives, her work studying how people think about their world -- and how we can use that knowledge to help computers better understand our world -- has important implications.

“I’m interested in understanding how humans create meaning from pictures and words, and how we use that meaning to make inferences about the world around us. From that comes my second research goal: to improve a computer’s ability to understand the world as we do,” explains Alona. “Right now, computers aren’t very good at turning pixels on a screen into effective representations of meaning. I believe insights into how humans process and interpret their world will help us improve these systems.”

“Alona’s immense contributions to machine learning research alone make her deserving of the Top 40 Under 40 award,” remarks Cam Linke, CEO of the Alberta Machine Intelligence Institute (Amii). “Above that, she is a truly remarkable professor and leader, teaching and mentoring with care, acquainting the world with our top-tier research conducted in Alberta, and doing it all with humility, kindness – and a desire to inspire world-changing machine intelligence for good and for all.”

Alona represents Alberta on the global stage with her top-tier research and international conference presentations. She has published 46 scientific papers with 900 total citations, including 150 citations in just the last year, and along with her co-investigators, she has secured more than $4.5 million in research funding to support her work at the University of Alberta.

As a professor in both Psychology and Computing Science at the University of Alberta, Alona also supports and grows future generations of students, researchers and practitioners. Over the course of her career, she has taught over 1000 students and directly supervised more than 20 students. She has also led workshops that encourage young people to gain coding skills, co-organized the Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day at Google, presented at the AI4All event at Simon Fraser University, and has been a keynote speaker at the Women in Technology Conferences.

Says Alona: “It is part of my duty to the scientific community to take on a mentorship role in order to encourage diversity in the field and to spark an interest in science for new faces and fresh perspectives. I endeavour to bring creativity, compassion and enthusiasm to all my interactions with students, and to get them as fired up about research as I am.”

As a female in a heavily male-dominated field (the 2020 World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Report notes that female workers make up only 26% of workers in Data and AI roles) and a mother of two small children, Alona has faced an uphill battle making a name for herself.

“My children were born after I defended my PhD thesis, and while on the tenure-track, a notoriously difficult time to become a parent. I work hard to find a balance between being a good mother and a strong researcher, which I hope is inspiring and reassuring to other women considering this career path.”

Read Alona’s full Top 40 Under 40 profile.

You can learn more about Alona's work by watching her CIFAR Brains Behind AI profile:

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