Shaping the Future of Artificial Intelligence for Society: Emory’s AI.Humanity Initiative

Will robotic home caregivers ever have the compassion and technical expertise to care for the most vulnerable among us? Can artificial intelligence (AI) adequately recover the voiceless from historical archives? What can we do to ensure that AI revolutionizes our world for the better?

For Ravi Bellamkonda, provost and executive vice president for academic affairs, questions like these are at the heart of AI.Humanitya major university-wide initiative launched this academic year.

“Emory seeks to realize the full potential of technology to shape human endeavor,” says Bellamkonda. “We want to put AI at the service of humanity by using it to guide health, law, business, the arts, and the humanities in thoughtful, ethical, and wise ways.

Led by an advisory group of Emory faculty with diverse expertise in the field, the AI.Humanity initiative aims to recruit 60 to 75 new top faculty over three to five years. Hired from each of Emory’s nine schools, this wide range of AI scholars will be prepared for interdisciplinary work in four main focus areas: business and free enterprise, human health, law and social justice, as well as the arts and humanities.

The initiative will be supported by a focus on community building to encourage scholarly collaboration, as well as educational opportunities for faculty, students and the Emory community.

“AI offers limitless opportunities as well as many serious challenges,” says President Gregory L. Fenves. “Emory faculty and students have the multidisciplinary expertise to develop creative and thoughtful innovations so that AI can be a force for good – improving our world and the human experience.”

“The most pressing research challenges in AI today are complex and multiple, and they will require real interdisciplinary collaboration in order to be addressed – not only within the sciences, but also with the humanities and social sciences”, adds Lauren Klein, Winship Distinguished Research Professor of English and Quantitative Methods. “It’s exciting to see the AI.Humanity initiative take shape at Emory, an institution that has long valued precisely this kind of transformative research.”

Improve an inter-campus network

New rental Anant Madabhushi performs the kind of work described by Klein. A bio-engineer by training, Madabhushi will join Emory Medical School in July. Madabhushi uses artificial intelligence and machine learning techniques to improve outcomes for people with cancer and other diseases, as well as to help address racial health disparities and global health.

With ethics at the heart of the AI.Humanity initiative, the first James W. Wagner chair in ethics will be another first hire ready for interdisciplinary work.

Although the AI.Humanity initiative is new, these and other initiatives faculty recruits will join an established network of AI researchers – and ready collaborators – on campus.

“The intellectual and physical geography of the Emory campus is very conducive to collaboration,” notes Lance Waller, professor at the Rollins School of Public Health and lead for the Woodruff Health Science Center’s strategic initiative in data science. “I am a biostatistician, an engineer by training, but when I want to give a new dimension to my research, I don’t have to go far to find art historians, epidemiologists, environmental lawyers and others with interesting ideas.

AI.Humanity is building on this in exciting new ways by recruiting a significant cohort of new colleagues who not only bring AI expertise, but intentionally focus on areas where Emory is already strong,” adds Waller. “The reach and potential of the community we create is truly powerful.

Earlier this semester, Emory researchers met to learn more about their respective work in data science and artificial intelligence through the Constructive collisions program, managed by the Office of the Senior Vice President for Research. The office also offers seed grant funding to connect Emory and Georgia Tech faculty to “stimulate new research collaborations and expand existing partnerships to leverage artificial intelligence to improve society and our daily lives.”

Building on these beginnings, the AI.Humanity community subgroup, led by Waller, is actively working to create new opportunities for collaboration. These include offering pilot funding and incubators in which projects and working groups can grow, as well as lecture series and workshops.

A second AI.Humanity subgroup focuses on expanding educational opportunities on campus.

“We believe in ‘Al for All’,” says leader Vaidy Sunderam, chairman of the Department of Computing. “As the digital age progresses, it becomes increasingly important to understand what AI means, what it can and cannot do, how to connect to it, and when to be wary of it.”

Infusing AI into curricular and extracurricular spaces, the group is responsible for everything from promoting basic AI/ML (machine learning) literacy that empowers students to answer questions such as “What does it mean to be a citizen in a digital world? to create new interdisciplinary major, minor or certificate programs for those who want to focus more deeply.

Connecting AI to everyday life

The lesson AI.Humanity Ethics Lecture Series already provides educational and community development opportunities at Emory. Held in April and May, it features world-renowned scholars addressing the ethics of AI in their respective fields – computer science, philosophy and law – and highlights how critical ethical research is in shaping the future of these technologies. rapidly evolving.

“Ethics is intrinsic to AI,” says Paul Root Wolpe, director of Emory’s Center for Ethics and Raymond F. Schinazi Distinguished Research Chair in Jewish Bioethics. “By this I mean that the purpose of AI is to make decisions, and the decisions themselves are always based on a set of values, and the consequences of those decisions have ethical implications.

“You can’t create AI without AI ethics,” Wolpe continues. “Emory’s ethics scholarship in all of its schools, its singular ethics center, and the promise of ‘ethical commitment’ in its vision statement make Emory the first university to evolve the ethics of AI into the future.”

It’s precisely this kind of broad perspective that will distinguish Emory’s approach to artificial intelligence research and education in a highly technical age, according to Bellamkonda.

“We want technology to help us realize the full potential of human beings, expressing themselves as a values-informed community, in ways that we actively choose and shape,” he says. “This is the space that Emory seeks to pursue. This is the space where we excel as a university and where we seek to contribute to the world.


Visit the AI.Humanity website to learn more about the initiative, including news and events.

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