WMU building foundation for safe, secure artificial intelligence development with NSF grant

Contact: Erin Flynn

Clockwise, from top left: Drs. Alvis Fong, Shameek Bhattacharjee, Ajay Gupta and Steve Carr.

KALAMAZOO, Mich.—Self-driving vehicles. Smart digital personal assistants. Real-time multilingual translators. Artificial intelligence—AI—applications are all around us. A computer science faculty team at Western Michigan University is working to ensure AI isn't hijacked or misused for nefarious reasons. Drs. Alvis Fong, Shameek Bhattacharjee, Steve Carr and Ajay Gupta received a nearly $300,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to create materials for teaching safe, secure and reliable artificial intelligence.

"As AI increasingly permeates every facet of our daily lives, we begin to observe reported cases of AI-related failures and misadventures," says Carr. "We are now at a critical juncture when there is an urgent need to ensure that current and future scientists who advance AI, as well as practitioners who use AI, understand its limitations and how to develop robust and dependable AI."

Increasing artificial intelligence literacy among students is paramount in helping them understand the technology's limitations and prevent misuse. It also dispels misinformation and fear gleaned from science fiction and sensational stories about AI killing human jobs and obliterating life as we know it.

The WMU team will begin their work in mid-August. Their two-year pilot project will involve designing intensive, multi-faceted, modular and experiential learning units to upgrade the skills of current and future cyberinfrastructure users. The modules could be integrated into existing classes from the freshman level all the way up to postgraduate education.

"Influenced by authoritative sources on AI and guided by a panel of experts drawn from academia, industry and government agencies, we will develop experiential learning modules that provide hands-on learning experiences to a wide spectrum of STEM students at WMU and beyond," says Fong.

The team will use best practices and lessons learned from the pilot to craft blueprints for programs that could be implemented across science, technology, engineering and math disciplines in the future. Ultimately, the program will inform training for the next generation of interdisciplinary students.

"The goal is to bring together the areas of AI, computer security and privacy, and computation theory to create a holistic understanding of the power, pitfalls and potential biases of AI algorithms and their widespread use in society," Gupta says.

"Beneficial AI can help people work better and more efficiently by helping them amplify their cognitive power," adds Bhattacharjee. "We see a future in productive human-AI collaboration in a way not very different from how steam engines, electricity, telephony and other inventions benefited (and continue to benefit) society on a large scale."

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