New Grant Integrates AI Ethics with Tech Learning

May 31, 2023

When you hear “artificial intelligence” (AI), the first thing that probably comes to mind are popular generative programs like ChatGPT and DALL-E. However, these programs only scratch the surface of how AI is rapidly changing our society. Would you want an artificial intelligence deciding who to hire for a job, or what medication to prescribe? The spread of these new technologies raises a host of ethical questions about how they should be used, and how to prevent biases in the future. AI for the Workforce of Tomorrow, a new $1.29 million National Science Foundation (NSF) grant project by The Lawrence, will create an online learning experience for high school students to examine the ethical questions around AI while teaching the technical aspects of how AI programs work.

Experts at The Lawrence specialize in developing programs and curricula that model new and effective ways of teaching and learning about cutting-edge science. Through their iterative design process, our researchers create learning experiences leading to improved educational outcomes that can be implemented in schools and other learning spaces across the country and around the world.

“We identified the need for a model of collaborative learning that better integrates ethics with AI technical learning,” said Eric Greenwald, Research Strand Leader at The Lawrence and Co-Principal Investigator on the project. “The problem is, a lot of times, the ethical questions and the technical questions are separated. So, you end up with AI developers who haven’t adequately wrestled with the ethical questions.”

Artificial intelligence is starting to permeate many different aspects of society, from college applications to healthcare screenings. As AI is used in more and more industries, questions arise on whether the outcomes are safe and fair for everyone involved. Because artificial intelligence learns from prior data, any negative patterns and biases can be replicated through the AI’s decision-making. Exploring these ethical questions allows future AI developers to account for historical bias, leading to a more equitable outcome.

AI for the Workforce of Tomorrow will instill high school students with the technical know-how to break into the development of artificial intelligence and understand the broader social and ethical concerns associated with AI. Ultimately, our researchers hope this program can strengthen and broaden the participation of underrepresented populations in the future workforce giving them a sense of ownership in this emerging field.

This new program builds on a previous online learning experience developed by The Lawrence during the COVID-19 pandemic. TechHive AI was an online summer camp experience that offered middle and high school students an opportunity to learn about artificial intelligence and its potential applications. Researchers explored what worked and what didn’t work in this course and identified both collaborative learning and ethical principles as areas for growth in the next iteration.

The new course funded by this grant is organized around scenarios representing potential uses of AI. For example, students will explore how artificial intelligence could be used in screening college applications. They’ll explore how AI used for this purpose works, where the data the AI is trained on comes from, and what potential ethical pitfalls might arise in this particular use case. The discussions and activities are student-driven and highly collaborative, bringing young people’s natural curiosity, creativity, and personal experiences to the table.

“We’re striving for a learning experience that includes the youth themselves in designing the learning experience,” said Eric Greenwald. “We hope this experience can serve as a model for centering equity, justice, and the lived experiences of young people in tech education.”

The program’s first iteration will run in the spring of 2024, with students recruited from high schools in the western United States that receive Title I funding. After that, researchers will collect feedback and continue to improve the course for future cohorts. Once the course has been honed and the findings published, the researchers hope to develop a sustainable model for this program to continue into the future without NSF funding. Many of our well-known curricula, learning materials, and other programs began with research funding from NSF, NASA, or the Department of Education, so don’t be surprised to see this course grow in the future!

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