Monday, December 9

Innovations and Ethical Considerations for AI in Higher Education

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Terri Givens

by Terri E. Givens

In November I attended the Council of Independent Colleges (CIC) annual meeting of Chief Academic Officers, which was held in Baltimore, Maryland. One of the more interesting discussions during the conference revolved around artificial intelligence (AI).

Illah R. Nourbakhsh, Professor of Ethics and Computational Technologies at Carnegie Mellon University, discussed a series of issues related to AI and its potential applications. Nourbakhsh is the author of the books Robot Futures and Parenting for Technology Futures. In his work on robotics, he focuses on interaction and ways to use robotic technology to innovate, as he states on his website:

“For more than ten years I have been exploring human-robot interaction with the aim of creating rich, effective and satisfying interactions between humans and robots.”

In his talk at CIC, Nourbakhsh focused on some of the issues that are influencing the way we look at AI and robots:

  • Hyperbole in Techno-optimism
  • Ethical boundaries
  • Labor and automation anxiety
  • Generational techno-social motivation

In the case of techno-optimism, he discussed the fact that there are some researchers who believe that death is a disease that can be cured, leading to immortality. Events like “Global Futures 2045” focus on ways to use technology to extend human life, including using cybernetics; or as Elon Musk has proposed, merging the consciousness with AI, noting that “such technology could eventually allow humans to develop a copy of themselves which will live even after their body dies.” However, these ideas don’t seem to have made it out of the lab.

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Despite warnings from people like Bill Gates and Elon Musk about the dangers of AI, the reality is that it is a useful tool, even in education, as we have noted in our latest Guide to AI.  Ethical issues have been an important topic, and Norkbakhsh pointed out that it will be important for us all to understand both the value and limitations of AI as it develops, and to avoid its misuse as algorithms can be written in ways that discriminate. For example, many job screening algorithms have been shown to discriminate against women.

Surveys show that many are concerned that AI will cause people to lose their jobs, although they feel optimistic about their own job. The reality is that automation will likely lead to the creation of new jobs, but in new areas that we can’t predict today. Our students will need to understand that they must develop a broad range of skills as they go into the workplace, so that they are ready for the jobs that will come into being as AI and other forms of technology transform the workplace.

AI was also high on the agenda at another conference I attended in Silicon Valley: the AI and Big Data Expo, which focused mainly on the future of enterprise technology in the form of IoT (Internet of things), blockchain, cryptocurrency, cybersecurity, and of course, AI. One vendor I spoke with, Pluto7, is helping university researchers to automate research methods, manage growing data archives, and reduce the time needed to perform simulations and analyze data. They have worked with several medical centers, including a case study with USC Healthcare where they were able to reduce the processing time for clinical trials by 75% using machine learning.

Council of Independent Colleges

The Council of Independent Colleges (CIC) annual meeting of Chief Academic Officers.

Another issue that is high on the agenda for tech companies is data and cyber-security. Companies like Infosec are helping universities train their employees so that they are able to detect attempts at phishing and other forms of cyber crime that can endanger data, including student records. Keeping up with trends in data protection is another important aspect of higher education administration that we can expect to evolve in the coming years as new technologies come online. The Center for Higher Education will continue to be a resource for sharing the latest in technology and the ways it is being used by colleges and universities around the country.


About the author

Dr. Terri E. Givens is the Founder and CEO of The Center for Higher Education Leadership (CHEL). She was the former Provost at Menlo College in the San Francisco Bay Area; Professor of Government and European studies at The University of Texas at Austin; Vice Provost overseeing undergraduate curriculum and spearheading global initiatives as its chief international officer. She formed CHEL to provide academic leaders with information and a supportive community for improving management and leadership skills in an environment of changing demographics, financial challenges, and advances in educational technology. CHEL was born of Terri’s experiences navigating these fields and learning along her journey through academe, from professor to vice-provost and provost at universities in Texas and California.

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