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Pittsburgh Looks to Boost Tech Presence With AI

The city’s Technology Council’s annual Tech Fest encourages developers to capitalize on the power of generative artificial intelligence while also being cognizant of the risks of the software.

It's been over 100 years since steel tycoon Andrew Carnegie walked the streets of Pittsburgh, but you can talk to him yourself through a new generative AI system developed by Johnstown-based Problem Solutions.

Or, if dead philanthropists aren't your jam, there's Charlie, a 4-foot tall holographic alien. Problem Solutions developed him for the U.S. Air Force.

On Friday, they brought both virtual mascots to Homestead, where more than 100 regional companies converged for Pittsburgh Technology Council's annual Tech Fest. Developers shared ways to capitalize on the power of generative AI and expressed optimism for the region's growing influence on the global tech stage.

"It's been a heck of a journey," said Richard James, a software engineer at UPMC Enterprises. "We used to be a flyover city. Now we're building high-rises and headquarters."

Absent the region's larger players such as Google, Meta and Duolingo, the conference revealed a hunger from smaller companies to seize on the transformational potential of new AI tools. One major opportunity is coaching.

When he's not designing interactive aliens, Problem Solutions chief experience officer Brooks Canavesi is helping other companies think about how best to implement ChatGPT and other tools. He said the average person is using only 10 percent of the new systems' capabilities, and they don't have time to learn more.

Meanwhile, the systems are becoming exponentially more powerful as OpenAI, Google and a host of smaller developers race to train their large language models on more data.

Companies that choose to implement generative AI must also be cognizant of the risks the software introduces, said Pam Kamath, founder of the Pittsburgh consulting firm Adaptive AI.

"These systems are notorious for creating fabricated data," Ms. Kamath said. "They lack privacy and they're very poorly designed on security."

As a result, she said, keeping a "human in the loop is important to everything you do."

The emphasis on human potential was epitomized by a keynote speech from Claye Greene, an IT consultant who advises the federal government. Instead of technical advice, Mr. Greene spoke about human traits like curiosity and influence.

"There's a lot of people here today that are striving for excellence," he said. "Learn from them ... find mentors, find advocates, find sponsors, find people that are willing to help."

Many of the businesses that attended said the robustness of Pittsburgh's tech sector has made it easier to attract and retain talent.

Graduates from Carnegie Mellon University are increasingly landing in local companies that allow them to create deliverable products in a short timeframe, said Hasan Yasar, a technical director in the university's Software Engineering Institute.

Instead of trying to lure talent from Silicon Valley, "you can find it here," said Denise Cortinovis-Jablonski, an account manager involved in talent acquisition at IQ Inc.

It's been a "remarkable" transformation to witness, said Ms. Cortinovis-Jablonski, who moved to the city in 1999 to attend the University of Pittsburgh.

"Technology just sort of came in and took over," she said.

For Chris Smith, also of IQ Inc., that growth came as no surprise.

"The tech community here has always been this super vibrant, diverse conglomeration of people from all over the world," he said.

(c)2023 the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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