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The 99 AI Challenge

While artificial intelligence (AI) feels relatively new, it is quickly reshaping our work and our world. However, most of us don’t understand either the technology itself or its potential impact.

The University of Toronto Libraries is offering an opportunity to change this with The 99, an AI challenge for the U of T community.

The 99 is a cohort of 99 students, staff, faculty, and community members at the University of Toronto with no technical expertise, who have taken on a year-long challenge to explore the basics of artificial intelligence.

Open to applicants from all three campuses, the first phase of the challenge consists of an online course starting this July. Designed for the general public, it delves into definitions of AI and its related fields, its philosophy, applications, functionality, and societal implications. No knowledge of programming is required. In fact, we are explicitly seeking applicants with little to no programming experience - just curiosity and a willingness to learn.

In the second phase, participants will help to determine topics for and participate in a series of six in-person discussions and critical engagements with U of T experts on issues surrounding AI, which could include topics from health and education to privacy, bias, robotics, cognitive science and psychology, to cities, art, information, and work. Participants will be informed of session dates and speakers via email and the Slack channel.

And in the last phase, the cohort will share what they have learned to help create a report back to the library and beyond. The outcomes may inform decision-making around technology adoption at the library.


This challenge is a pilot project designed to educate and engage non-technical experts: it will give you access to a network of knowledge and perspectives on this pertinent and exciting area.

By participating, you will:

  • Develop knowledge of AI and its related fields, its philosophy, applications, functionality, and societal implications
  • Demonstrate new technological awareness and understanding of AI trends and innovations
  • Think critically and consider alternative perspectives and solutions regarding emerging technologies and their applications
  • Apply new information, concepts, and experiences to your life and society at large

Participants who complete all the program milestones will be entered to win one of a number of cool tech draw prizes from U of T startups.

Degree-seeking student participants can also enroll in a Co-curricular Record for completing the challenge.

There is no cost for this program.

How to apply

Applications are now closed. Current U of T staff, students, faculty, and community members from St. George, Mississauga, and Scarborough campuses with little or no knowledge or experience of the field of AI were eligible to apply.

Applicants from the University must be enrolled or employed at U of T through 2020. Participants will be screened for level of existing knowledge on the topic, as well as other factors to create an inclusive and diverse group. Alumni are not eligible unless they are applying as a community member.

Community members are non-technical employees of organizations such as MaRS, CAMH, University Health Network (UHN), Queens Park, the ROM, University of Toronto Schools, Centre for Social Innovation, and others. Community member applicants must have a connection to the University of Toronto, and should clearly explain that in their application form. Please note that being a U of T alumni is not sufficient in terms of connection.

For more information, please see our FAQ.


Applications ran from May 21 to June 14, 2019. Successful applicants will be notified by the end of June. Phase 1 will run through July to mid-August and Phase 2 will kick off in September and run through February 2020. A graduation celebration will take place in Spring 2020.

Participants will be expected to commit to approximately 20 hours of virtual learning during July and August 2019 (Phase 1), plus approximately 20 hours of in-person and online participation over the 2019-2020 academic year (Phase 2). Participants are required to attend a minimum 5 of the 6 in-person conversations throughout Phase 2, and complete reflections and feedback surveys at milestones through the year.

Applicants are advised that this is a pilot program, and that their data will be collected for reporting purposes internal to the University of Toronto. The pilot organizers may reach out to participants to gain consent to use collected data for secondary research purposes, and that their consent can be withdrawn at any time. Any opt-out from research will not prejudice or impact an individual’s continued participation in or access to the program.

Learn about U of T Libraries online privacy and data collection