noun /ˌär-tə-ˈfi-shᵊl in-ˈte-lə-jən(t)s/
1: a branch of computer science dealing
the simulation of intelligent behavior in computers
2: the capability of a machine to imitate intelligent human behavior
The age of artificial intelligence (AI)
Even more so than other recent themes of the St. James Faith Lab newsletter, artificial intelligence (AI) is a highly multidisciplinary field whose research, creation, and ramifications draw from and touch on almost every discipline and facet of everyday life.
In reflection of this, leading U.S. universities and research centers are creating research hubs that bring together experts in the humanities, law, public policy, economics, software engineering, machine learning, health, security, sustainability and more to collaborate on enabling AI and humans to collaborate interactively to solve problems in health, security, and sustainability and to optimize what humans do best.
As a sign of how seriously the field is taken, the National Science Foundation (NSF) is investing up to $1 billion in support of these research initiatives in order to advance U.S. leadership in AI. The NSF is just one of a growing list of U.S. government agencies that are committing strategic thinking and dollars to the development of AI.
Continued from the emailed newsletter
In this expansion of AI research, mainly focused on enhancing human capabilities, universities and research centers are building on countless interdisciplinary efforts already underway that have brought together collaborations of faculty members and outside experts. In all of these formidable academic and professional teams, the disciplines of philosophy, anthropology, law, and public administration are included to ensure that, for example, machines that can learn and execute human behavior do so ethically and legally. Each of these collaborations also includes a great deal of attention paid to cybersecurity and privacy safeguards.
These hubs of education and research are preparing students to thrive in the age of AI by emphasizing uniquely human skills and the integration of data into learning processes in order to prepare them to do what even the most intelligent machines, with the most advanced machine learning platforms and chips cannot do—yet.
All of these programs are mindful of the inevitability of intelligent machines evolving and becoming increasingly capable of collaborations that draw on the knowledge and skills being developed by the universities and research centers. For higher education and the funders supporting their AI research, this poses a strategic paradox: the more they develop capabilities to accomplish their technological and humanistic missions, the more their accomplishments also feed the capabilities of intelligent machines in an interconnected cyberworld.
The potential benefits are clear. One common theme of research, touched on by Carnegie Mellon University, Stanford University, Yale, University of Texas at Austin and many others institutions of higher education, is the study and analysis of digital media’s influence on public policy and opinion; social media’s impact on democracy, values, beliefs; and the processes that shape an informed society. Designing solutions to the problem of proliferation of disinformation is part of all these research programs.
Thankfully, in all of these research initiatives on the impact of the internet and digital media on our society, the emphasis is on finding ways for humans and their intelligent machines to work together towards the same goals, harnessing and leveraging the unique resources of AI that makes autonomous systems possible.
These collaborations are making one thing clear to universities and research centers nationwide: education in the AI age is a lifelong journey. Contributing to this perspective are many recent surveys in which the overwhelming majority of respondents believe that over time AI will eliminate more jobs than it creates; education by employers would be preferable to colleges and universities; and college degrees will diminish in importance.
As John Brockman and others in our book selection for this month tell us, advances in AI and machine learning will necessitate revamping higher education to prepare students for their professional lives even as these professions themselves are disappearing—or at least changing radically. The challenge for educators of the next generation of college students will be to enable students to become sufficiently skilled and creative to compete against smart machines and adapt to change as AI changes virtually all elements of the future. The challenge, as physicist Max Tegmark writes in his article (“Let’s Aspire to More Than Making Ourselves Obsolete”) in Possible Minds, includes teaching the next generation to unlock the full potential of “intelligence” and “machines” to help humanity flourish.
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The Rev. Canon Cindy Evans Voorhees
St. James Faith Lab