On Tuesday, April 25, The Agnes Irwin School hosted more than 130 members of our community for “The Evolving World of Artificial Intelligence,” a TED-style presentation featuring inaugural Visiting Scholar Professor Meredith Broussard – an associate professor at Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute of New York University, research director at the NYU Alliance for Public Interest Technology, and nationally recognized author – in conversation with WHYY Host and Creative Director Maiken Scott.
Guided by Professor Broussard and her expertise at the intersection of technology, journalism, and ethics, attendees journeyed into the complex landscape of artificial intelligence (AI) and how the technology works on a foundational level. “AI is just math; it’s beautiful, complicated math, but ultimately it’s just math,” Broussard explained. “We can talk with each other and with our girls about what’s real and what’s imaginary about AI so that we can look at AI and say, ‘This is something that is made by people, it has flaws just like people do, and we have agency over the decisions that go into making and using these tools.’”
Professor Broussard Illustrated how all AI systems are built on the same sources of training data – large, often publicly available sources of information – that are fed into a computer with the command to make a model based on the mathematical patterns in said data. Although generative AI tools, such as ChatGPT, deliver results that humans make meaning of, the computer itself is only producing sentences or images based on patterns, interpreting words as a string of letters and spaces that inform its pattern-recognition capabilities.
Broussard’s research and reporting expertise has led her to focus on educating people on issues of bias in artificial intelligence. During her conversation at AIS, she discussed how the inequalities of our real world environments become reinforced by our AI-powered systems because “generative AI can only generate things based on what has come before.” Small and homogenous groups of technologists who build tools which do not reflect a diverse world lead directly to the use of faulty systems that are built to learn and replicate historical patterns of discrimination, inflicting disproportionate amounts of harm on women, people of color, and people with disabilities.
Over the course of the 2022-2023 school year, Professor Broussard worked directly with faculty and students to explore age-appropriate lessons around how AI systems are built, how these pattern-recognition systems work to replicate the inequalities of the real world, and how we can use our personal agency and critical thinking to make decisions that reduce the harm that AI systems can cause.
While in conversation with event moderator Maiken Scott, Professor Broussard addressed a range of questions including: “How can we as parents keep up with everything that is changing around this topic of Artificial Intelligence? How can we contribute to getting more credible information into training data sets? What role do educational institutions play in creating better digitally informed citizens?”
Through her remarks and responses, Professor Broussard encouraged all those in attendance to continue learning about and discussing the intersectional issues inside of technological systems as society identifies and implements solutions.
The conversation on “The Evolving World of Artificial Intelligence,” and this year’s Visiting Scholar engagement was made possible through the generous support of Goldman Sachs, The Clower Family Speakers Fund, and the AIS Center for the Advancement of Girls.