UND Today

University of North Dakota’s Official News Source

Annual Chamber Dinner features UND-led panel on artificial intelligence

The Dakotas provide a ‘unique opportunity’ for AI’s development, panelist says

UND President Andrew Armacost (left) and Thread CEO Josh Riedy discuss the future of artificial intelligence. Photo by Joe Banish/UND Today.

An event that drew what planners termed “record attendance,” the annual Grand Forks-East Grand Forks Chamber of Commerce dinner featured UND academics, local business leaders and an internationally famous entrepreneur, all of them talking about the North Dakota economy and developments in artificial intelligence.

At the event, UND President Andrew Armacost chaired a panel on AI. The panel included Ryan Adams, associate dean of national security at UND, and Josh Riedy, co-founder and CEO of Thread – a company focused on digitizing critical components of the utilities and energy sector.

Riedy – former vice provost at UND – said advancements in AI have improved safety and efficiency for front line utility workers.

“Here in the Dakotas, we have a unique opportunity to apply artificial intelligence,” Reidy said. “What used to take three people a half day and was a safety hazard, now takes 20 minutes for one individual, thanks to advancements.”

Kevin O’Leary delivers the keynote address at the annual Grand Forks-East Grand Forks Chamber of Commerce dinner. Photo by Joe Banish/UND Today.

Adams said delegating repetitive cognitive tasks to AI systems frees time for humans to undertake more complex tasks.

“At the end of the day, what we need to keep in mind is that AI is intended and should be intended to make things easier,” he said. “It doesn’t make us lazy; it allows us to focus on the things that we do best. There are a lot of simple tasks that computers can do far better than we can – repetitive things we end up making mistakes on because we get bored.”

The Chamber also honored former Altru CEO Dave Molmen with its annual Henry Havig Award.

A 2018 recipient of UND’s Presidential Medal, Molmen was instrumental in the formation of Altru in 1997, merging the organization with the former United Health. He has also been praised for his work at UND’s School of Medicine and Health Sciences, formerly serving as chair of the school’s Advisory Council. In that position, Molmen and Dr. Josh Wynne, dean of the School, helped secure more than $120 million in state funding for the construction of the School’s current building.

Former Altru CEO Dave Molmen accepts the Henry Havig award. Photo by Joe Banish/UND Today.

As the event’s keynote speaker, Kevin O’Leary — entrepreneur, venture capitalist and star of the reality television show “Shark Tank” — touted the myriad economic opportunities available in North Dakota. He praised the “insane work ethic” of North Dakotans and encouraged the state’s politicians and business leaders to “be less bashful and tell the story of North Dakota.”

“It’s not just oil and gas – it’s way more than that,” he said. “It’s bioscience, AI, defense, drone technology, the second-largest Microsoft campus in the country. Nobody knows this story – why not? I’m just one voice, and totally committed to pushing this out because it’s the right thing to do.”

O’Leary also opined that the shift toward remote work during the pandemic gives state an advantage when it comes to attracting new business and retaining existing talent.

“The American economy has fundamentally changed forever, in a good way,” O’Leary said. “Digitization has allowed companies to realize that 45% of their staff is never coming back to HQ. You can’t convince young people to go sit in a cubicle anymore, because they’ve proven they don’t have to and can be productive without it. Which means you can move HQs anywhere in America.”

Riedy and Thread also received a $5 million investment from O’Leary Ventures’ “Wonder Fund,” an investment program directed by O’Leary that focuses on economic development in North Dakota.