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College of Engineering and Computing

  • The in-person component of the CASY conference.

Over 100 artificial intelligence experts discuss ethics and interdisciplinary use of collaborative assistants at UofSC

By Abe Danaher | October 19, 2020

As chatbots, artificial intelligence and collaborative assistants become more and more a part of our everyday lives, the questions surrounding these technologies grow. How is our privacy being protected by the laws and lawmakers tasked with protecting it? What are the benefits of these technologies, and do these benefits outweigh the fears associated with them? And, what are the people in charge of innovating in this sector doing to protect the rest of us from the technology we use, but don’t understand?

The University of South Carolina Artificial Intelligence Institute hosted the Collaborative Assistants for the Society’s (CASY) 2020 conference on Friday, October 16. The hybrid, in-person and virtual, conference brought together 140 leading minds in the world of artificial intelligence to discuss the ethical questions surrounding the use of digital assistants, such as Amazon’s Alexa and Apple’s Siri, in everyday society and the interdisciplinary benefits this technology offers.

“As scientists, we need to step out,” said Biplav Srivastava, a professor at UofSC’s College of Engineering and Computing and host of the conference. “Not doing anything is not an option. You need to step out, and I believe the more experimentation you do, the more you learn. So, I think in that spirit, it’s good that people are coming out and talking, but where will it lead? I don’t know.”

The conference’s speakers included faculty from universities across the United States, public sector leaders from organizations such as the World Economic Forum and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), and leaders from private companies, including Google, Amazon, IBM and Accenture.

“This is no longer just a technological discussion, right?” Srivastava said. “If it was just a matter of creating a technology in a lab, then this would have just been a technical conference. What’s happening now is that it’s easy to build these technologies and put them out. But then how do you use them? And what are their effects? So, that has become very important.”

Panel topics at the one-day conference included: the impact of collaborative assistants, the science of building collaborative assistants, product and service trends in collaborative assistants, and the potential of collaborative assistants for South Carolina and America’s Southeast.

During the conference’s fourth panel, Amit Sheth, Dezhi Wu, Barnett Berry, Ronda Hughes and Bryant Walker Smith discussed the interdisciplinary benefits of artificial intelligence in health care, law and education. Berry, a research professor at UofSC’s College of Education, spoke of what he learned leading All4SC and the effects and challenges he sees schools facing as they look to take advantage of emerging technologies in K-12 schools. His presentation sparked a discussion that was emblematic of many of the conference’s thought-provoking panels.

Berry said, “In Singapore, the average teacher only teaches children directly only 15 hours a week. In the U.S., it’s closer to 30 hours a week. Therefore, teachers in the U.S. have far less time to integrate technologies to work with other professionals in ways that educators and top-performing jurisdictions around the world often do. If we don’t change the structure of schooling, then we’re not going to be able to take full advantage of the expertise that we are speaking to today.”

Sheth, the founding director of South Carolina’s AI Institute, added that he hopes that AI can make classroom more personalized. He said, “Can these chatbots help some of the students who require less attention so that the teacher can provide more attention to those who need more help? Possibly.”

The conference was hosted by UofSC’s Professor Biplav Srivastava. Srivastava joined the college in August 2020 as a professor in the AI Institute and Computer Science and Engineering Department. Previously, he worked as a distinguished data scientist and master inventor at IBM’s Chief Analytics Office. The event was sponsored by the AAAS’s Center for Public Engagement with Science and Technology and the AI Journal.

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