Opinion: In Utah, we’re using responsible A.I. to take on environmental and health crises

We want to apply the transformational potential of A.I. to problems of regional and global significance while also protecting privacy, civil rights and civil liberties.

(Illustration by Christopher Cherrington | The Salt Lake Tribune)

Utah’s reputation as a technology star is on the rise, driven by successful spinouts from our universities, dynamic job growth, a well-educated and talented workforce and strategic support from the state.

Now, as artificial intelligence (A.I.) becomes increasingly integrated in everyday life and applied across myriad fields to address major problems, we have the opportunity to supercharge our rise by showcasing how A.I. can produce innovative solutions and do so responsibly.

The spread of A.I. everywhere, all at once — or so it seems — is rightfully generating concern, from its potential to perpetuate bias to its use to create and spread misinformation and its ability to shatter privacy and intellectual property protections. The challenge before us is to harness the positive aspects of artificial intelligence to facilitate innovation, societal impact and solutions.

This is where the newly launched Responsible AI Initiative at the University of Utah, backed by a $100 million commitment, comes in.

We want to use A.I. to yield viable answers to such problems as environmental sustainability, disease prevention and treatment, mental health, natural disaster prevention and management and other major challenges. We also want to equip our students to fill workforce demands for employees who understand both A.I.’s potential and its pitfalls.

Through the Responsible A.I. Initiative, we aspire to leverage A.I. in ways that model fair, equitable, ethical and transparent applications, overcoming knowledge, technical and social barriers. We want to apply the transformational potential of A.I. to problems of regional and global significance while also protecting privacy, civil rights and civil liberties.

Technology innovation is part of the University of Utah’s DNA. We’ve used a translational approach in the past to have a global impact on emerging technologies, from our role in the creation of the internet to the computer graphics and visualization revolution. Now, we want to take on that leading role again.

To have a transformational impact, we will combine multidisciplinary excellence with state-of-the-art infrastructure. We will bring together education, training and workforce development to prepare the next generation to most effectively and ethically use A.I.. And we will build guardrails into applications of A.I. by bringing computer scientists together in collaboration with scholars from a range of relevant disciplines, including the humanities, social sciences, medicine and law.

We will do this in a way that does not create the “haves” and “have-nots,” democratizing the technology and its impacts.

We are not starting from scratch. We have a foundation of superb achievements in computer science and engineering, visualization and graphics, and multidisciplinary engagement that we will build on, pursuing the brightest talent to join us in this endeavor.

Throughout my career as a computer scientist, I have been drawn to solving challenges. The opportunity to translate technology in a responsible and impactful way is one reason I joined the University of Utah two years ago. And it is the reason I co-chaired the National Artificial Intelligence Research Resource Task Force, in which we developed a model that would support a national A.I. resource that would allow every researcher and institution access to contribute to the A.I. research ecosystem.

AI is driving discovery, innovation and economic growth; it has the potential to transform science and society. But realizing this potential requires that A.I. research and development progress responsibly. That is our mission.

(Photo courtesy of Manish Parashar) Manish Parashar

Manish Parashar is the director of the Scientific Computing and Imaging Institute and the Responsible AI Initiative at the University of Utah.

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