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Alex Kearney

I make things.

Alex Kearney


I'm Alex Kearney, a PhD student studying Computer Science at the University of Alberta. I'm supervised by Rich Sutton and Patrick Pilarski. I focus on Artificial Intelligence and Epistemology.

Constructing knowledge of the world is central to intelligence. My research addresses how artificial intelligence systems can construct knowledge by deciding both what to learn and how to learn, independent of designer instruction. I predominantly use Reinforcement Learning methods.

When I'm not playing with robots, I hang out with the indieweb community, drink tea, and scubadive.

Things I've written.

Lana Cuthbertson, Alex Kearney, Riley Dawson, Ashia Zawaduk, Eve Cuthbertson, Ann Gordon-Tighe, Kory W. Mathewson, "Women, politics and Twitter: Using machine learning to change the discourse", AI for Social Good workshop, Dec 14th, Vancouver, Canada, 2019 (co-located with Neurips). 

Johannes Gunther, Nadia Ady, Alex Kearney, Micheal T. Dawson, Patrick M. Pilarski, "Examining the Use of Temporal-Difference Incremental Delta-Bar-Delta for Real-World Predictive Knowledge Architectures", under review, 2019

Alex Kearney, Oliver Oxton, "Making Meaning: Semiotics Within Predictive Knowledge Architectures", 4th Multidisciplinary Conference on Reinforcement Learning and Decision Making (RLDM), July 7th - 10th, McGill University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada, 2019. (Poster, Abstract and Spotlight Talk)

Alex Kearney, Patrick M. Pilarski, "When is a Prediction Knowledge?", 4th Multidisciplinary Conference on Reinforcement Learning and Decision Making (RLDM), July 7th - 10th, McGill University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada, 2019. (Poster and Abstract)

Johannes Gunther, Alex Kearney, Nadia Ady, Micheal T. Dawson, Patrick M. Pilarski, "Meta-learning for predictive knowledge architectures: A case study using TIDBD on a sensor-rich robotic arm," Proc. of 18th International Conference on Autonomous Agents and Multiagent Systems (AAMAS), May 13-17th, Montreal, Canada.

A. Kearney, A. Koop, C. Sherstan, J. Günther, R.S. Sutton, P.M. Pilarski, M.E. Taylor, "Evaluating Predictive Knowledge,” Accepted to AAAI Fall Symposium on Reasoning and Learning In Real-World Systems For Long-Term Autonomy, Arlington, VA, U.S.A.

J. Günther, A. Kearney, M.R. Dawson, C. Sherstan, P.M. Pilarski, “Predictions, Surprise, and Predictions of Surprise in General Value Function Architectures,” Accepted to AAAI Fall Symposium on Reasoning and Learning In Real-World Systems For Long-Term Autonomy, Arlington, VA, U.S.A.

A. Kearney, R.S. Sutton, P.M. Pilarski, “An Enactive Approach to Perception in Reinforcement Learning”, CAPNet/CPS CAN-ACN Satellite Symposium, Co-located with Canadian Association for Neuroscience Conference, Vancouver, British Colombia, Canada, 2018. (Oral Presentation and Abstract)

A. Kearney, V. Veeriah, J. Travnik, R. Sutton, P. M. Pilarski, “Every step you take: Vectorized Adaptive Step-sizes for Temporal-Difference Learning,” 3rd Multidisciplinary Conference on Reinforcement Learning and Decision Making (RLDM), June 11-14, The University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA, 2017. (Poster and abstract.)

A.J. Koop, A. Kearney, M. Bowling, P.M. Pilarski, “Dealing with Changing Contexts in Myoelectric Control,” Proc. of MEC'14: Myoelectric Controls Symposium, Fredericton, New Brunswick, August 18-22, 2014, pp. 117-120.

A.L. Edwards, A. Kearney, M.R. Dawson, R.S. Sutton, and P.M. Pilarski, “Temporal-Difference Learning to Assist Human Decision Making during the Control of an Artificial Limb,” 1st Multidisciplinary Conference on Reinforcement Learning and Decision Making (RLDM), Oct. 25–27, Princeton, New Jersey, USA, 2013. 5 pages.

A. Kearney, A. Koop, M. Bowling, P.M. Pilarski, “Partition Tree Learning for Improved Control of Myoelectric Prosthetics,” 8th Annual Workshop for Women in Machine Learning, Co-located with NIPS, Lake Tahoe, Nevada, Dec. 05, 2013. (Oral and poster presentation.)

Things I've won.

Alberta Innovates Graduate Science Scholarship

2019 | $12000

A provincial scholarship awarded for students researching in fields related to emerging technology.

NSERC Postgraduate Scholarships-Doctoral

2018 | $63000

A national scholarship awarded for academic excellence, research potential, and communication skills.

President’s doctoral prize of distinction

2018 | $10000

Institutional Scholarship awarded for academic achievement.

Science Graduate Scholarship

2017 | $2000

Institutional Scholarship awarded for academic achievement.

Walter H. Johns Graduate Fellowship

2017 | $5800

Institutional fellowship awarded to graduate students for holding a Canada Graduate Scholarship.

Alexander Graham Bell Canada Graduate Scholarship-Master's

2017 | $17500

A national scholarship awarded to up to 2500 students annually for academic excellence, research potential, and communication skills.

Best Final Year Performance by a Female Undergraduate Student

2016 | £150

Awarded by the ethics and dviersity committe of the informatics department, this award was for achieving the highest academic average amongst female students.

Google Anita Borg Memorial Scholarship: EMEA

2014 | €10000

A scholarship for 40 women in Europe, the Middle East and Africa studying computer science at and undergraduate and graduate level. Awarded for technical skills, community outreach and leadership.

My university wrote about it here . You can read more about the scholarship and Dr. Anita Borg here.

Lovelace Colloquium:
People's Choice Award

2013 | £150

A conference for undergraduate students interested in research. I presented prior work on applying machine learning to the control of robots. Won the award despite being my first year of undergraduate studies.
My university wrote about it here and one of the organizers, Hannah Dee, wrote about it here.

Most Surprising Project:
Object Oriented Programming Competition


A competiton for students taking the introductory object oriented programming course at the University of Edinburgh. Awarded for work on my 'Project Omaha' application.

National Advanced Placement Scholar &
Advanced Placement Scholar With Distinction


Awards for performance on Advanced Placement exams. These are university-level exams for high-school students interested in higher education.

Things I've done.

Borealis AI

(Formerly RBC Research)

Machine Learning Research Intern

Summer 2017

Worked on improving the robustness of RL algorthims on real-world prediction problems.

University of Alberta

Rehabilitation Robotics Intern

Summer 2014 - present

Reinforcement Learning & Artificial Intelligence Intern

Summer 2013

Over the years, I've designed and implemented control systems for bionic limbs---control systems for use on both amputees and able-bodied subjects. I've extended systems and built a flexible framework which allows people of varying programming levels implement machine learning experiments in real-time.

I designed and ran novel experiments that allow bionic limbs adapt to their users in real-time as through interacting with their environment. Previously, I've focused on using contextual learning: allowing the arm to adapt to new situations while maintaining knowledge of previous tasks.

University of Edinburgh

Hackathon Coordinator


ILWHACK is hackathon which spans the whole of innovative learning week at the University of Edinburgh. As student coordinator I organized catering, venues, and sponsorship.

University of Alberta

Highschool Intern


The high-school internship programme is a six week placement in a research lab at the University of Alberta. For both of my internships I worked in the Reinforcement Learning and Artificial intelligence lab. I designed and ran novel experiments on a robotics platform with little prior experience.

Things I've studied.

University of Alberta, Present

PhD. Computer Science

I'm a student at the University of Alberta in the RLAI and BLINC labs. I focus on Artificial Intelligence and Robotics. Specifically, I focus on how we can make prosthetic limbs adapt to their users on-line: as they're using them in their day-to day lives.

University of Edinburgh, 2016

Bsc. Artificial Intelligence and Computer Science, First Class with Honors

During my degree program I've focused on Machine Learning and Natural Language Processing. For my honors project I looked at how we can adjust machine-learning parameters online and in real-time.

Brentwood College School, 2012

Honours Highschool Diploma, B.C.

During high-school I did white-water kayaking, rock-climbing, pottery, Model United Nations, and an assortment of other things. I was captain of the Model United Nations team and a prefect during my final year.

Things I've talked about.

Startup Edmonton Panelist: Your Career in Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning


A panel open to members of the tech community in Edmonton on how to get into AI and build a career in Machine Learning. Event details, here.

Accelerate AB Panelist: The Fundamentals of Artificial Intelligence


Panel Moderator, Culture Fit: Real-talk


C-Tribe Festival Panel Moderator


I moderated two panels featuring guests from industry and academia, leading a discussion on applications of AI.

Interviewed, Gateway Magazine: The New Intelligence


Things that matter.

Edinburgh University Hoppers

President 2014-2016

Hoppers is the University of Edinburgh's women's computing club. We're a community that provides support for women in computing by providing technical workshops and talks throughout the year. I've been a part of the committee since 2013 and president since 2014. If you're interested in participating, either as a member or by giving talks, drop us a line at More information is available on our site.

Indieweb Community and Homebrew Website Club

Meetup co-coordinator 2015-2016

The indeweb is a community of people building their own websites. The indieweb values:

  • Owning your own data.
  • Having control over what you publish, how it's shown, and who sees it.
  • Self-hosting.

In 2015 I built my own indieweb site. Later in the year, I started co-coordinating the weekly meetups in Edinburgh with local enthusiasts. Now that I'm in back in Edmonton, I'm looking to start a local meetup. If you're interested, drop me a line.

Edinburgh University SocieTEA

Vice President 2015,
Tea Historian 2013

The most calm society at the University of Edinburgh. Every Thursday we enjoy tea, biscuits, and good company chaplaincy. During the 2013/2014 academic year I was the tea historian, and I am the vice president for the 2015/2016 academic year. You can find out more about the society on our web page.



I like to spend time 90ft under. Give me a nitrox tank and I'm happy. Recent spottings include a puffer fish, some reef shark, and an elusive stone-fish---one of the most poisonous creatures in the world!

Model United Nations

BCS MUN President 2012

I was a massive debate and Model United Nations nerd in high-school. My school blogged about it:
VANMUN 2012, VANMUN 2011, VICMUN 2011, VICMUN 2010, and my first debate tournament!

Let's chat.

Edmonton, Alberta, Canada