COLLABORATION

Northeastern University’s new AI research hub is all about human potential

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AI solutions should be designed to augment human potential, not replace us.

Can artificial intelligence really replace human intelligence? Not if AI solutions are thoughtfully designed to augment, rather than replace, human skills.

More and more, experts are recognising there could be serious repercussions to the failure of designing technological solutions that place human values at the center of artificial intelligence revolution.

This is exactly what Northeastern University’s Institute for Experiential Artificial Intelligence aims to prevent from happening. The pioneering research hub will place human skills and intelligence at the forefront of artificial intelligence development, from design through to implementation.

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According to News@Northeastern, the university is allocating US$50 million for the new institute, which brings together a multidisciplinary team of experts from the humanities, law, public policy, machine learning, health, security and sustainability fields to develop human-centered artificial intelligence-driven solutions to global challenges.

“This new institute, the first of its kind, will focus on enabling artificial intelligence and humans to collaborate interactively around solving problems in health, security, and sustainability,” Northeastern President Joseph E. Aoun wrote in a letter to students, faculty, and staff.

“We believe that the true promise of AI lies not in its ability to replace humans, but to optimise what humans do best.”

For the artificial intelligence hub, the university will employ some 30 faculty members to design the future of autonomous systems where the human is helped by the machine, rather than replaced by them. 

On top of the university’s experts in the field, about 50 professors and researchers will work together across different disciplines such as computing, digital humanities, law and materials science.

The institute will have access to Northeastern’s global network of co-op employers and leveraging this, will develop new technologies and applications in partnership with businesses, government stakeholders and non-governmental organisations.

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The center is being launched ahead of an anticipated announcement by the National Science Foundation to invest up to US$1 billion to advance US leadership in artificial intelligence, amid predictions that rival China is already closing in on the Western superpower.

Globally, the AI market is quickly expanding as businesses and economies continue to pump billions of dollars into research and development. The market was valued at US$16.06 billion in 2017 and is expected to reach US$190.61 billion by 2025, growing at a breakneck CAGR of 36.62 percent during the forecast period, according to Markets and Markets.

Northeastern’s new artificial intelligence research hub is an expansion of current and ongoing interdisciplinary efforts at the university to develop next-gen technologies while also addressing their impact on human lives.

For example, the Institute for Experiential Robotics connects engineers, ethicists, sociologists and economists to build machines capable of learning and executing human behaviours.

The Ethics Institute, meanwhile, brings together researchers from the disciplines of philosophy, information science, communications, public administration, anthropology, and law to discuss issues ethical issues such as information privacy, intellectual property, intellectual freedom, and censorship.

Other similar endeavours include the Cybersecurity and Privacy Institute and the Institute for the Wireless Internet of Things, which combine the academic and real-world expertise of leaders in relevant fields to conduct pioneering research on new technologies.

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“Our research here is use-inspired, and we have the ability to cross over from classic computer science into engineering, into ethics, into data visualisation and art,” said James C. Bean, the provost and senior vice president for academic affairs at Northeastern. 

“We need to be creating those AI modules that are defining what the new culture is going to be.”

The school also prepares students for the age of artificial intelligence through a unique “humanics” curriculum that incorporates technological, data, and human literacies into learning. The aim of the curriculum is to help students improve humanistic values and skills that no machine can replace, ie. creativity, collaboration and empathy.

According to Northeastern, the curriculum is a critical feature of the school’s strategic plan for 2025.

“We are building on substantial strengths across all colleges in the university,” said Carla Brodley, dean of the Khoury College of Computer Sciences. 

“Experiential AI is highly relevant to our mission.”