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New fellowship explores artificial intelligence and society


AI-generated illustration depicting people sitting around a table.

This image was created by the Shutterstock AI Image Generator by typing in "human learning about AI and society" as the prompt. Photo by Shutterstock

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March 27, 2023

With advancements in natural language processing, artificial intelligence has the potential to generate written content that is indistinguishable from human writing, blurring the lines between what is produced by machines and what is produced by humans. The intersection of AI and society is no longer a hypothetical discussion — the previous sentence was generated by the popular AI chatbot ChatGTP. 

This concept is one of many topics that will be discussed in a new fellowship opportunity offered in partnership between Arizona State University’s School for the Future of Innovation in Society and the New York Academy of Sciences. Three postdoctoral research scholars will join an interdisciplinary team as they participate in a program that combines education and training experiences relating to AI and society. The application deadline is April 25. 

“Even today, many people still envision AI as something that belongs in the same future as flying cars and Terminators,” said David Guston, professor and founding director of the School for the Future of Innovation in Society. “Experts disagree about how AI will play out in the future, but many aspects of it are already ingrained in our everyday lives, from the image and voice recognition on our phones to the use of algorithms to cater to our interests online, to how expert systems and large language models upset work relationships, including in the classroom.” 

The fellows will split their time between New York City, ASU and public- and private-sector internship sites. Throughout the full-time, fiscal-year appointment, the fellows will also engage with mentors and receive programmatic support from ASU and the New York Academy of Sciences.

The program will onboard fellows in fall 2023 and is planned to continue into a second year, when the fellows will use their experiences by teaching at ASU. Other fellowship activities include internships and research projects to be presented via academic journals, conferences and workshops. 

“The New York Academy of Sciences is thrilled to launch this unique partnership with Arizona State University, a leader not only in innovative approaches to education but in the study of the future of technology and its multiple impacts on society,” said Nicholas Dirks, president and CEO of the New York Academy of Sciences. “AI is transforming our society at lightning speed, and it is essential that we gain a better understanding of its implications across almost every sector.” 

As AI continues to develop and embed itself further in society, it brings endless possibilities in fields such as health care, robotics and transportation. It also brings ethical questions in regard to privacy, bias and displacement. 

“As far as we’ve seen AI develop in the last few years, we haven’t seen a proportionate response in exploring the social, economic, cultural and ethical issues that come with its application,” said Guston, who will oversee the program. “This fellowship is a partial but important response to that need.” 

Fellowship applicants must have a PhD in a relevant field; evidence of a strong research background; and expertise in the field of AI and society, including publications in leading academic journals. 

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