UGA students and faculty share their thoughts on artificial intelligence

With shows and films like “Black Mirror,” “Her” and “Ex Machina,” artificial intelligence has been cast in a bad light. However, if you ask John Weatherford, a professor in the New Media Institute at the University of Georgia, AI isn’t all bad. We actually utilize AI much more than we know.

“People are probably interacting with artificial intelligence a lot more than they already realize,” Weatherford said. “I’d say when [artificial intelligence] specifically labeled as such, it’s primarily a novelty.”

It seems that grocery store’s telephone customer service, of all things, have actually blazed a path for the acceptance of AI, said Weatherford.

“Customer service or even things like self-checkout is not necessarily artificial intelligence but just conversational automation,” he said. “Think about when you call up Apple tech support or something like that, and you’re talking to a voice assistant where they parse what you’re saying by voice and try and tell you what you said and direct you to the right place.”

Connor McCrae, a sophomore from Atlanta studying computer science at UGA, finds the progress of AI fascinating.

“I think it’s a really interesting thing because eight years ago, people said basically machines can’t learn, they can only do what they’re programmed for, but now they’re learning,” McCrae said. “Look at DeepMind [artificial intelligence]: DeepMind mastered chess in like eight hours, when they just literally told it to learn how to play chess. It’s super interesting stuff, and as a result, I think it’s going to completely change the field because now people are saying machines are definitely capable of learning.”

How AI is changing the field is exactly the sort of questions that businesses are asking as the technology continues its rapid growth. In a Forbes article published last year, Falem Fatemi, the author and founder of an AI platform called Node, mentioned how successful businesses must learn to bridge the gap between AI and humans.

“It’s inevitable that the winners of tomorrow will need to use AI technology to improve sales and marketing efforts,” Fatemi said. “But, at the end of the day, they will still need to know how to relate to and interact with other human beings.”

Sometimes when this gap isn’t bridged, it leads to a disconnect between human emotion and artificial intelligence. A Guardian article described in-depth this disconnect sometimes referred to as “the uncanny valley.”

“The ‘uncanny valley’ is a characteristic dip in emotional response that happens when we encounter an entity that is almost, but not quite, human. It was first hypothesised in 1970 by the Japanese roboticist Masahiro Mori, who identified that as robots became more human-like, people would find them to be more acceptable and appealing than their mechanical counterparts,” the author, Stephanie Lay, said. “When they were close to, but not quite, human, people developed a sense of unease and discomfort.”

Is human connection achievable through AI? Weatherford believes that for now, AI will focus on simpler tasks, but it is possible to see some progress with actual human-and-technology connection.

“I think places where these technologies are going to fall down are where the subtleties and nuance of context are relevant. With things like friends and companion AIs for the elderly, it’s not just accomplishing a task but providing that human connection. I think that’s a goal that’s being explored, but that will prove to be one of the last frontiers crossed,” Weatherford said. “I think it’s going to start with the more systematized, rote, repetitive tasks and kind of edging out from there into to things that are a little less rote, a little less consistent, where AIs those cases more and more.”


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