Montreal was the place where the Declaration for Responsible Development of Artificial Intelligence (AI) was created. But like a shabby shoemaker, Montreal’s AI ignored its negative impact on the adopted neighborhood, causing residents Thursday to protest what they see as significant disrespect for the most vulnerable.
Tenants from the Parc-Extension district, the anti-eviction mapping collective Parc-Extension and the action committee Parc-Extension hold a “tintamarre action” in the morning with rattles and other sound accessories before the opening of the panel TimeWorld international conference focusing on artificial intelligence and which takes place on the MIL Campus of the University of Montreal, located in the district.
Protesters accuse companies, universities and governments of creating the conditions that make this neighborhood increasingly unaffordable. In particular, they rely on a report published last month by university researchers detailing the damaging effects of the emergence of an artificial intelligence industry mainly concentrated in this quadrangle located between Mont-Royal to the west, the metropolitan highway to the north, Villeray to the east and Outremont to the south.
The housing crisis affecting Parc-Extension is the same one affecting other neighborhoods in Montreal and other cities in North America: real estate developers evict, renovate and rent or sell homes at a much higher price than before they came. This not only creates a lack of affordable housing, but also of social housing; a shortcoming that especially affects an immigrant neighborhood like Parc-Extension, explains communication professor at Concordia University Alessandra Renzi, co-author of the report entitled Digital Divides — The Impact of Montreal’s AI Ecosystems on Park Expansion: Housing, Environment and Access to Services†
“Many local residents are waiting for their visa to be allowed to work. These are women and men who cannot afford high-speed internet, if only to take advantage of the innovation happening nearby,” laments Alessandra Renzi. The professor believes that the strategy of the government of Quebec and the City of Montreal to invest massively in the development of AI in the metropolis is failing, by not helping the poorest who are being punished for it. Companies headquartered in California or elsewhere on the planet will not solve the problem, the academic added.
In their report, the authors are adamant: “There is a direct link between AI innovation in Montreal and the housing crisis, which is exacerbated by AI companies, government-funded institutions such as Scale AI, and the University of Montreal, whose presence in the neighborhood is driving up rents and favoring luxury real estate development, while failing to deliver on its promise to make student housing more affordable,” it reads.
Recalling last March’s request by the Office de consultation publique de Montréal, which requires nothing less than a “Marshall Plan” against the gentrification of Parc-Extension, the researchers believe that the authorities could encourage more civic engagement of the different actors involved in AI in Montreal.
These are women and men who can’t afford high-speed internet, if only to take advantage of the innovation happening nearby.
We must recognize the limits of the AI ecosystem and provide equal access to housing, businesses and employers and social groups outside the private sector, academia, business or government, they write, concluding: “Instead By only subsidizing private initiatives, governments should encourage the creation of new community-based and community-run projects […] so that the AI ecosystem benefits everyone, rather than sustaining any damage. †