Panelists, subject matter experts, and Eden Prairie community members convened this week for a discussion of artificial intelligence (AI) and its impacts – current and potential – on our lives.
The town hall-style event, titled “AI: Hype, Harm, or Hope?” asked participants to weigh in via interactive polls at the beginning and the end of the event on which of the three options best described their personal feelings about AI. The number of participants choosing “hope” for their poll response at the end of the event increased from the results of the poll at the beginning of the event, with fewer people choosing “harm.”
Hosted by Eden Prairie Local News (EPLN) and the Eden Prairie Chamber of Commerce, the event began with a brief introduction to the workings of AI from Alok Gupta, senior associate dean of faculty, research, and administration at the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management.
Gupta’s explanatory diagrams were supplemented later in the event with an analogy from Justin Grammens, founder and CEO of software development company Lab 651. Grammens compared existing search engines, such as Google, to a librarian who points you to existing books and resources without offering opinions, only directions. In contrast, AI can be likened to a librarian who has absorbed all the books and resources and acts more as a conversational partner.
Moderator Ken Stone, a media consultant and former Twin Cities Public Television anchor and reporter, brought AI into the conversation on Thursday night, asking ChatGPT to respond, in 100 words or less, to questions such as how AI could be used to protect against cyberattacks, or how AI could address ethical concerns of its use. (ChatGPT’s noncommittal responses mentioned things like flagging unusual activity as part of cyber attack prevention, and humans safeguarding ethical behavior.)
Panelists: AI impact on schools, work, everyday life
Panelists Heather Mac Murray, Steve Grove, and Arun Batchu spoke about the impact of AI on three areas: schools, the workplace, and everyday life.
Mac Murray, director of learning analytics, data, and reporting for Eden Prairie Schools, stated the district recently formed a task force to discuss AI in the schools. The questions the district is attempting to address, she said, include what students need to know about AI and what they need to be able to do; how teachers can use AI and what technology they need to do so; and what policies and procedures the district needs to have in place.
Teachers’ opinions on AI, Mac Murray said, are reflective of the community and run the gamut from excited hope to a “not in my classroom” view of the technology as harmful.
Grove is the publisher of the Star Tribune, Minnesota’s former commissioner of employment and economic development, and a former executive at Alphabet’s Google.
He expressed his opinion that AI could be a way of addressing workforce labor shortages, particularly in Minnesota, while acknowledging that this would likely have a disproportionate impact on certain jobs and populations. Grove also expressed his hope that news organizations and technology companies would work together as AI develops to find a model that provides financial benefit to both types of companies.
Journalists’ job, Grove said, is to deliver “truth and accuracy,” and if news organizations have no financial incentive to allow their content to be included in AI databases, it will devalue those databases.
Arun Batchu offered an “everyday life” perspective on AI. While Batchu serves as a vice president and analyst in the software engineering practice at technology research firm Gartner, Inc., his presentation centered on his personal AI experiences.
These ranged from using predictive text on his smartphone; seeking AI assistance for ingredient substitutions in his kitchen, especially when he found himself missing an ingredient for a curry; leveraging AI to design Halloween and Diwali cards in a Japanese manga style; to searching for specific content within a PDF.
Despite his wide-ranging examples of AI use, Batchu said, “This is not the end game. The end game is saving (people from) cancer.” He also noted, “The next generation of kids are going to be AI natives.”
AI perspectives: ‘buddy in your pocket’ to concerns for humanity’s future
Subject matter experts, in addition to Grammens who extended his librarian analogy to having an “AI buddy in your pocket,” included Jody Carey, owner and entrepreneur of Jody Carey Copywriting, and Steve Reinhardt, director of software strategies at Transform Computing.
Although originally a reluctant user of AI, Carey said she now uses several features and views it as an evolution of creative tools. She likened it to the evolution of graphic designers progressing from using tools such as X-Acto knives and small bits of paper to using Adobe products such as Photoshop.
“Will AI replace creatives? I don’t think that’s possible,” Carey said. “It’s our creativity that’s going into it.”
Reinhardt’s presentation focused on current and potential drawbacks of AI, including the question of whether the development of artificial general intelligence (AGI) would pose a threat to humanity’s existence, AI’s high proportion of electricity and energy consumption, and its reflection of existing biases, as demonstrated by facial recognition software functioning much better for white male faces than for Black females, for instance. “We need to prepare for both the good and bad of human nature,” Reinhardt said.
Approximately 150 people registered for the event, held at the Performing Arts Center of Central Middle School, with the audience submitting questions during the event and continuing discussions regarding AI during a social time in the lobby afterward.
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