Scholars discussed the positive uses and potential threats of AI during a recent symposium hosted by The Ohio State University.

National researchers explore future of artificial intelligence at Ohio State University symposium


At a symposium held at Ohio State University on September 22, scholars from multiple disciplines across the country discussed the future of artificial intelligence (AI) and the ethical issues raised by the technology. Focusing on the theme “Is Artificial Intelligence Justice Possible?”, the symposium explored topics such as the application of artificial intelligence in environmental science, criminal justice, and art.

The Ohio State University College of Humanities and Arts and Sciences hosted the symposium at the Ohio Alliance as part of a joint initiative on artificial intelligence in engineering, arts and humanities.

“The goal of this project is the interaction between different viewpoints,” said Barry Shank, director of the Institute for the Humanities. “We can address common themes and we can address differences in perspectives.”

Many scientists, futurists, and philosophers predict that the use of artificial intelligence will lead to technological breakthroughs in the coming years. However, Roman Yampolskiy, associate professor of computer engineering and computer science at the University of Louisville, said potential advances must be accompanied by safeguards to protect personal privacy, job security and personal safety.

“We cannot indefinitely control machines that are smarter than us,” he said. “There’s something wrong with that.”

Wai Chee Dimock, professor emeritus of American studies and English at Yale University, said that while the threat posed by artificial intelligence has not yet been determined, the technology has many positive uses, including promoting the advancement of environmental science.

“Artificial intelligence has a role to play, both in supporting non-human ecosystems and in supporting human communities, particularly indigenous communities,” she said.

Dimock discussed a partnership between Brazil’s indigenous Tembé tribe and the San Francisco nonprofit Rainforest Connection. Through collaboration, the Tambe people use retrofitted mobile phones to monitor illegal logging in the Amazon rainforest.

“This is a very, very advanced phone,” she said, “and it was built by STEM students.”

Dimock also shared details of artificial intelligence technology developed by Cornell University and the University of Hawaii to monitor the health of transplanted heat-tolerant coral reefs on the island of Moorea in French Polynesia.

“Artificial intelligence and power sensors can do a better job than (humans)” at monitoring coral reefs in remote areas, she said. “We’re not good at analyzing large amounts of data. Artificial intelligence can do that.”

Matthias Rees, director of the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at Harvard University, said the rapid rise of artificial intelligence has fueled a debate over whether the technology will eventually develop a form of consciousness comparable to humans.

He said a key point in the debate was whether such technology should be entitled to rights enjoyed by humans, such as the freedom to decide what type of work to do.

“This was a fascinating time for philosophers,” Rees said. “In the context of artificial intelligence, these questions become even more pressing.”

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