Our human future in the age of artificial intelligence

Artificial intelligence technologies concept illustration

For the[{” attribute=””>MIT Schwarzman College of Computing Dean Dan Huttenlocher, bringing disciplines together is the best way to address challenges and opportunities posed by rapid advancements in computing.

What does it mean to be human in an age where artificial intelligence agents make decisions that shape human actions? That’s a deep question with no easy answers, and it’s been on the mind of Dan Huttenlocher SM ’84, PhD ’88, dean of the MIT Schwarzman College of Computing, for the past few years.

“Advances in AI are going to happen, but the destination that we get to with those advances is up to us, and it is far from certain,” says Huttenlocher, who is also the Henry Ellis Warren Professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science.

Along with former Google CEO Eric Schmidt and elder statesman Henry Kissinger, Huttenlocher recently explored some of the quandaries posed by the rise of AI, in the book, “The Age of AI: And Our Human Future.” For Huttenlocher and his co-authors, “Our belief is that, to get there, we need much more informed dialogue and much more multilateral dialogue. Our hope is that the book will get people interested in doing that from a broad range of places,” he says.

Now, with nearly two and a half years as the college dean, Huttenlocher doesn’t just talk the talk when it comes to interdisciplinarity. He is leading the college as it incorporates computer science into all fields of study at MIT while teaching students to use formidable tools like artificial intelligence ethically and responsibly.

That mission is being accomplished, in part, through two campus-wide initiatives that Huttenlocher is especially excited about: the Common Ground for Computing Education and Social and Ethical Responsibilities of Computing (SERC). SERC is complemented by numerous research and scholarly activities, such as AI for Health Care Equity and the Research Initiative for Combatting Systemic Racism. The Common Ground supports the development of cross-disciplinary courses that integrate computing into other fields of study, while the SERC initiative provides tools that help researchers, educators, and students understand how to conceptualize issues about the impacts of computing early in the research process.

“When I was a grad student, you worked on computer vision assuming that it was going to be a research problem for the rest of your lifetime,” he says. “Now, research problems have practical applications almost overnight in computing-related disciplines. The social impacts and ethical implications around computing are things that need to be considered from the very beginning, not after the fact.”

Dan Huttenlocher

Dan Huttenlocher, inaugural dean of the MIT Schwarzman College of Computing, has been focused on bridging gaps between disciplines since he first became interested in the nascent field of artificial intelligence as a teenager. Credit: M. Scot Brauer

Budding interest in a nascent field

A deep thinker from an early age, Huttenlocher began pondering questions at the intersection of human intelligence and computing when he was a teenager.

With a mind for math, the Chicago native learned how to program before he entered high school, which was a rare thing in the 1970s. His parents, both academics who studied aspects of the human mind, influenced the path he would follow. His father was a neurologist at the

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