By: Tyler Wells Lynch
It all began with a question: What is the state of AI in Maine? It’s not a question many in the AI community would think to ask. First of all, why Maine? And second, if AI is truly a global phenomenon, then why would its impact play out differently at the state level? You could answer both questions with an observation.
In recent decades, Maine has suffered tremendous job losses, particularly in its manufacturing sector, while its median age has skyrocketed to become the oldest in the country. Rural poverty, old industries, and mixed health outcomes have combined to create an economic situation that is hardly ameliorated by the state’s middling tax base, and only complicated by global demands to decarbonize. The question becomes: Can AI be leveraged to help Maine navigate its many challenges?
That was the idea behind The State of AI in Maine: an attempt to investigate the reach of AI in a unique state while also inquiring as to its potential. Once the idea took root, the next step was to do the research. Months and months of research and dozens of interviews culminated in a 64-page report detailing a thorough (but never complete) picture of the many ways AI is already helping to transform an old economy into a new one. We learned how AI is being used to robotically deliver medications in Maine’s hospitals, map and protect its vast woodlands, analyze financial reports, optimize supply chains, and even identify distant galaxies from NASA space telescopes—all in the Pine Tree State.
We discovered startups that were leveraging big data to modernize factories. We spoke to scientists who were using machine learning to monitor climatological changes in the Gulf of Maine. And we heard from CEOs in the state who are recruiting data scientists to make better, more informed decisions for their companies.
All that and more was on display at the State of AI in Maine event, which the Institute for Experiential AI hosted alongside the Roux Institute in Portland. Judging by the record-breaking attendance—not to mention the enthusiasm on display—to say that Maine is intrigued by AI’s promises would be an understatement. Leaders from the biggest and best companies and universities discussed all the ways AI is helping (and complicating) Maine’s transition to a modern tech economy. Leading press coverage from NPR, the Portland Press Herald, and Northeastern Global News further demonstrated how the event sparked a much-needed conversation with stakes for everyone in society.
AI is more than just DeepMind and ChatGPT. It encompasses a suite of applications, from cutting edge robotics to customer service portals. To borrow a definition from Stanford University, AI is any “activity devoted to making machines intelligent,” defining intelligence as “the quality that enables an entity to function appropriately and with foresight in its environment.” Following that definition, we can trace the project of AI back to mechanical automata—ancient technological marvels like music boxes and abacuses, which represent a persistent human desire to augment our cognitive capacities.
In her keynote address, Amanda Stent, inaugural director of the Davis Institute for AI at Colby College, pointed to an ancient Maya creation myth as an example of the delicate approach AI demands of its creators. The story goes that the gods once created a race of intelligent beings only to wipe them out in a flood for fear that the beings would become too intelligent and forsake their masters. Sound familiar?
Fast forward to now, and we see similar fears about AI—concerns that it will displace jobs, affirm societal inequities, or make decisions that ought to be left to humans. But none of these fears is unfounded, and Maine—with its rural population and legacy industries—is an ideal laboratory to study their impact.
When we first conceived of The State of AI in Maine one year ago it was only a vision, but the many wonderful guests and participants helped bring it to life, transforming a mere snapshot of a state into a vibrant community. We are honored and grateful to everyone who helped make this event and report a reality.But the conversation is only just beginning. We invite you to stay in the loop on all things State of AI, watch replays, and be sure to check out our 64-page report, which includes interviews with 50 business leaders, educators, and other stakeholders in Maine, as well as case studies, insights, and unique perspectives on how AI has become a power in Maine and a power for Maine.
Flip through the report: