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AI Sandbox: A Community Hub for AI Education and Innovation

In the heart of Nelson’s CBD, a group of passionate AI experts, enthusiasts, and community leaders have come together to create a groundbreaking initiative that aims to demystify artificial intelligence (AI) and empower the community. The Nelson AI Sandbox, a not-for-profit subsidiary of the Nelson AI Institute, is the brainchild of Richard Brudvik-Lindner, Mark Houghton-Brown, and Matthew Kidson, and marks the beginning of a new era in community-driven AI education and innovation.

The AI Sandbox, located at 228 Trafalgar Street, is a first-of-its-kind discovery space where members of the Nelson-Tasman community can freely explore, learn, and harness the potential of AI. This hub is run by a dedicated team of 20-30 volunteers and one employee, including 12 AI experts and enthusiasts.

Richard Brudvik-Lindner, a founding team member of the AI Sandbox, emphasizes the importance of this initiative in the rapidly evolving landscape of AI. “AI is here, and it can be a good thing, but we know many people are a bit wary of it. We’ve developed the AI
Sandbox to foster a more confident, eyes-wide-open, and innovative attitude towards using AI,” he explains. The primary goal is to upskill residents, making the Nelson Tasman region of 115,000 people a more prosperous, equitable, and connected place.

Picture by Tim Cuff. 3 Febuary 2024. The new pop-up AI Sandbox in Trafalgar Street, Nelson, New Zealand.

Co-founder Mark Houghton-Brown highlights the critical timing of the AI Sandbox’s opening. “AI is a rapidly evolving, transformational technology that is inevitably changing our lives. 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,” he states.

The AI Sandbox aims to address the barriers to AI adoption, as identified in a survey conducted by the NZ AI Forum, where 44% of respondents cited education as a key obstacle. The space offers both drop-in and scheduled visits, catering to all needs and
levels of experience.

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.”

As well as the positive benefits of AI, the Sandbox is also a place to discuss the ethics, morals, and potential risks of using AI, something they see as an important part of the discussion.
The AI Sandbox operates on three levels:
• A tutorial space designed for individuals or groups who want to learn to use AI for specific purposes.
• A curated service, with tutorials for those who have 30-45 minutes and want to learn about different areas of AI.
• A self-discovery space for those with some confidence in AI, where they can access various tools, engines, plug-ins, and apps to develop their skills and engage in peer-to-peer interactions.

Picture by Tim Cuff. 3 Febuary 2024. The new pop-up AI Sandbox in Trafalgar Street, Nelson, New Zealand.

Co-founder Matthew Kidson emphasizes the vast opportunities the AI Sandbox provides 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
organizations, and for the elderly population. AI can help extend human potential in all areas, and learning to harness this potential will help Nelson prosper now and in the future,” he says.

The AI Sandbox’s wider ambitions include future programs relating to local schools, Māori facilitation alongside iwi partners, business outreach, creative community access, and local government initiatives.
Liam Goodger, the sole employee of the Sandbox and a recent Nelson College graduate, hopes the initiative will help make the region a place young people want to return to. “I talk to people who have gone to uni, and nobody really sees a future in Nelson,” he says.

“This is something for people my age to look back and say this is something I actually want to be a part of, this is a region where there’s development happening.”

The inclusive and welcoming atmosphere of the AI Sandbox encourages people from all walks of life to explore, learn, and grow together. As Kidson puts it, “Come on down Nelson – the Sandbox is open for you.”
Visit the Nelson AI Sandbox at 228 Trafalgar Street, Nelson, open on weekdays from 10:30 AM to 5:30 PM, and Saturdays from 9:30 AM to 1:30 PM. For more information,
check out their website at

This article itself is evidence of the potential of AI – it was used to help construct this article.


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