Artificial intelligence shapes, guides, and predicts individuals’ lives and choices across the globe. But its ubiquity raises a number of ethical questions, particularly as tech giants like Facebook and Google monopolize media markets: What does it mean for algorithms to choose the news stories you find in your social media feeds? How are our relationships altered by decisions made through machine learning? And what does this culture shift mean for humanity’s future?
To encourage the next generation to begin grappling with these questions now, the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics in Durham is implementing a new, cross-disciplinary program later this year dedicated to studying AI and its entanglements with the modern world. Educators are hoping to expand the ways in which young people think about machine learning within their daily lives and in their educations—from the school of engineering to the humanities.
“It’s not just the technology and the networks and the data analysis that’s done, but the implications of AI in any field that the leaders of tomorrow will be involved in,” says Joseph LoBuglio, who will leave his role as dean of engineering and computer science to oversee the new program. “That could be health care and finance and legal realms and any business, creative endeavors, and just even as individuals interacting in our society—we’re all going to be heavily active with AI.”
The program, called The Ryden Program for Innovation and Leadership in AI, originated with a $2 million gift from Carl Ryden, a 1989 Science & Math alum who works with AI at his company, PrecisionLender. Ryden says he wants future leaders to contend with the ways in which AI can activity help humans rather than simply harvest and monetize their data.
An integral part of the Ryden Program will be a consideration of the ethical implications of machine learning on modern society through the varied lenses of academic study at Science & Math. Pointing to the potential dangers AI presents, Ryden notes the emerging problem of “deepfake” videos, in which machine learning is weaponized to produce videos that can realistically portray anyone saying anything.
“If you think fake news in terms of written form is a powerful form of propaganda, think about videos,” Ryden says. “This is already being done today. And what does that mean in terms of society? What does that mean in terms of erosion of trust? Erosion of trust in media sources, erosion of trust in online news.”
Rather than existing as a standalone area of study, the Ryden Program will be fused throughout the different academic fields at the school, even those that may not traditionally be associated with technology.
While similar AI programs exist at the graduate and undergraduate level at universities like at Carnegie Melon and MIT, Science & Math’s program is unique largely because of its open-sourced functionality. This means that its curriculum and other learning materials will be made available to the public free of charge. Public users are encouraged to make suggestions for modification and improvement; these suggestions could potentially become part of the learning materials.
This process will, in theory, break down barriers to access surrounding AI technologies.
Being open-sourced, the program will extend beyond the walls of Science & Math and its distance-learning programs, Ryden says. It’s a new way to approach an educational program dedicated to AI technologies. LoBugilo says he’s not aware of other open-sourced machine learning curriculum-based programs.
“We want to make sure we’re reaching people who don’t otherwise have access to a really specialized, technical area,” LoBuglio says. “It’s [about] reaching out to communities that might not think a program like this would fit in with their school—or with their community. We hope to have a curriculum and activities that can widely reach the communities of North Carolina and across this nation.”
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