NYU Tandon’s Center for Responsible AI kicks off an important transatlantic dialogue
Their new public event series is taking a wide-ranging view of AI, its uses, and its implications
When Dean Jelena Kovačević welcomed attendees on March 23 to the first event in “AI Here and There: Transatlantic Dialogues on Artificial Intelligence, Society and Innovation” — a four-part series jointly organized by the Center for Responsible AI and the Consulate General of Switzerland in New York — she pointed out that the topic was an exceptionally appropriate for NYU Tandon, a school that is not only part of a global university focused on research and collaboration but one that has long been dedicated to technology and its intersection with society.
“An important part of our mission is something we call ‘engineering opportunity,’” she said. “While it means making sure our school provides an inclusionary and welcoming environment for all, it goes well beyond that. It truly extends to our research itself, with the aim of enhancing democratic systems, increasing accessibility in transportation and other everyday human experiences, and, of course, identifying and removing biases from tools that utilize AI, which we’re doing with the help of Mona Sloane and her colleagues at the Center for Responsible AI.”
Sloane — who in addition to being a senior research scientist at the Center is an adjunct professor in the Department of Technology, Culture and Society at NYU Tandon and a fellow at the NYU Institute for Public Knowledge — moderated the high-wattage panel discussion, which also featured a welcome from Ambassador Markus Börlin, the Consul General of Switzerland in New York. Börlin explained that digitalization is a priority in Switzerland, which, as a nation, envisions a free, open and secure digital space. “Digitalization and new technology offer opportunities for everyone, and the use of technology can enhance our efforts for peace, security, prosperity, and sustainability,” he said, pointing out the great need for international dialogue and collaboration, “but digital transformation also presents challenges and risks.”
The day’s panel event, titled “Tracing Artificial Intelligence in Our Everyday Lives,” acknowledged that while AI has become prominent in recent years, few people understand just how deeply embedded it has become and what it means for society. Panelists thus addressed how AI works, the impact it has, the pitfalls it can pose, the regulatory framework needed to ensure its responsible use, and the different cultural approaches to AI and regulation.
Adjunct Professor, NYU Tandon and Senior Research Scientist, NYU Center for Responsible AI
Right now, there is no clear, set definition of AI. There’s an image from popular culture of sentient machines, but it’s not actually like Hollywood. We’re really speaking of technical systems that can analyze data and base decisions on it, so AI is having an impact on the hiring process, college admissions, the justice system, the housing market, and other areas that affect people’s daily lives.
Director of Machine Learning Ethics, Transparency and Accountability (META) at Twitter
It’s important to acknowledge that AI is working in both seen and unseen ways. Systems are collecting our data, sometimes for practical purposes and at other times, simply for its own sake, just because the system has that capability. Now, with Internet-of-Things technology, we’re surrounded by smart devices, and that has implications on everyday life. Without us even realizing it, AI can shape our worldview because it’s curating what we see on our various social media platforms and news sites.
Professor of Informatics and Director of the Digital Society Initiative at the University of Zurich (UZH)
We must recognize that technology and society develop together; there’s an intersection there. We can look to religion for a recent example; during the pandemic, many congregations turned to technology to hold services, so it bears examining how that changes the nature of worship.
We always have to consider the cultural lens when developing tech. Here’s an example from my own life. When I came from Switzerland to the U.S. I was surprised to see that many meetings were held over lunch, and people ate during discussions. Although no one gives it a second thought in America, that’s just not done in Switzerland, it would be considered rude. So, if you were developing artificially intelligent software to schedule meetings, that’s something you’d need to be aware of.
Managing Director of the Swiss Digital Initiative, Member of the WEF Global Shapers Community and Swiss Think Tank on Foreign Policy
It can seem like a digital jungle out there. There’s definitely a gap between principle and practice. One of the steps the Swiss Digital Initiative is taking is to institute digital “trust labels,” which provide transparency by denoting the trustworthiness of a digital service in plain non-technical language. In effect, it makes the algorithm visible and helps the consumer navigate the jungle.
Program Director at the NYC Mayor's Office of the Chief Technology Officer
In New York City, if you train an algorithm using data from one area, chances are that it won’t work elsewhere, because there’s so much variety from one neighborhood to the next. Imagine how hard it would be to train systems that could work globally.
In the case of a crisis though, you have to act quickly, for example when we discovered that the pandemic had exacerbated mental health problems in the Washington Heights section of New York. You ask yourself what can be done today and know that you’ll have to build something more sophisticated later.
If you missed it, the entire discussion can be viewed on YouTube.
Join us for the next events in the series:
- AI and Sustainability: will AI save our planet? April 13, 2021, 12-1 pm
- AI and the future of healthcare? April 20, 2021, 12-1 pm
- Will AI define the next Art Movement and what it means for Human Creativity? April, 27, 2021, 12-1 pm
Details to follow on the Tandon Events Calendar
You can also read more about another new event series Sloane is convening, “Co-Opting AI: Public Conversations About Design, Inequality, and Technology.”