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Trailblazing Community AI Hub Launches In Nelson

Today marks the opening of a globally ground-breaking project, the Nelson AI (Artificial Intelligence) Sandbox, which is set to educate, empower and adapt the community of Nelson-Tasman through AI.

The AI Sandbox has been created as a not-for-profit subsidiary of the Nelson AI Institute and is open as a store-front discovery space in the Nelson CBD. The Sandbox, located on Trafalgar Street, will act as an inclusive space where all members of the community can drop in to gain safe, free access to AI tools and hands-on expertise.

A not-for-profit entity, and a completely community-led effort, the space is run through the efforts of 20-30 volunteers and one employee, including 12 AI experts and enthusiasts, some associated with the Nelson AI Institute.

AI Sandbox founding team member, Richard Brudvik-Lindner says the space is the first-of-its-kind in the world, as far as they have found. “There is a pressing need for New Zealand communities to fully understand, explore, and cultivate the many opportunities AI presents and to use these skills to innovate and future-proof. AI is here, and that can be a good thing, but we know many people are a bit wary of it.

“We've developed the AI Sandbox to de-mystify AI and foster a more confident, eyes-wide-open and innovative attitude to using it. The overall aim is to make the Nelson Tasman region of 115,000 people, a more prosperous, equitable and connected place by building community capacity – upskilling residents.”

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The opening comes at a critical time for AI adoption says AI Sandbox co-founder Mark Houghton-Brown. “It’s becoming clear that AI is a rapidly evolving, transformational technology that is inevitably changing our lives, but the breadth of its potential is still unclear. If we can understand and make full use of the rapidly developing suites of AI tools available to us, then we will be better equipped to participate in the economy of the future, and to help shape it rather than simply consume it.”

In a survey conducted by the NZ AI Forum, 44% of respondents identified education as a key barrier to AI adoption so in a bid to counter these existing barriers to entry the AI Sandbox will offer both drop-in and scheduled visits.

Brudvik-Lindner describes the Sandbox as “an intergenerational space that strengthens the community's social fabric, as it targets capacity-building and community-creation for all ages and all socio-economic strata.”

It will operate on three levels to cater to all needs and levels of experience:

  1. A self-discovery space for those with some confidence with AI where they can access various AI tools, engines, plug-ins, and apps and develop their skills, and have peer-to-peer interactions – educating each other about AI.

2. A curated service, where experts create a sequence of AI explorations - so beginners can develop confidence in AI guided by experts and enthusiasts.

3. A tutorial space for bespoke workshops designed for groups who want to learn to use AI for specific purposes.

Ultimately the Nelson AI Sandbox will also add AI adaptability services, helping the community adjust to the rapid pace of change likely to happen through AI.

The Nelson AI Sandbox’s wider ambitions include future programmes relating to local schools, Māori facilitation alongside iwi partners, business outreach, creative community access and local government initiatives.

AI Sandbox co-founder Matthew Kidson emphasised the vast opportunities the AI Sandbox would provide the community. “This initiative is not limited to economic endeavours, there are endless areas of opportunity where AI can provide value, including in the arts, within non-profit organisations and for the elderly population. AI can help extend human potential in all areas and learning to harness this potential will help Nelson to prosper now and in the future. Come on down Nelson – the Sandbox is open for you.”

The inclusive and collaborative space will be open to all from 10 AM, on the 9th of March at 228 Trafalgar Street, Nelson.

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