Forum tackles ethical, business challenges in AI

Panelists sit on the stage in the Wallis Annenberg Hall Forum
Expert panelists, including Craig Knoblock, Gaia Dempsey and Ramsay Brown spoke about the current state of artificial intelligence. Dempsey discussed negative feelings towards current technologies such as ChatGPT. (Anthony Fu | Daily Trojan)

The Media, Economics & Entrepreneurship program hosted a panel Wednesday to discuss how the emergence of artificial intelligence is reshaping workforces and presenting ethical challenges in business. Since ChatGPT first opened to the public at the beginning of the year, some students at USC have been using the tool for essays, coding and other assignments.

Gabriel Kahn, professor of professional practice of journalism and co-founder of M{2e}, said he organized the discussion to encourage students to think about the challenges chatbots are expected to pose and to rethink the significance of education.

“[There’s a big question about chatbots, which is:] ‘If you’re letting a chatbot do your homework, what job can you expect to get?’” Kahn said.

The advent of tools like ChatGPT, Kahn said, presents entirely new challenges that “force you to think in new and different ways,” and the AI Forum is an opportunity to have that “conversation in a way that is not just black or white.”

During the panel, three experts in AI technology spoke on the impact of chatbots on future generations. Craig Knoblock, research professor of computer science and spatial sciences and vice dean of the Viterbi School of Engineering, gave an overview of where he believes the field is headed.

“We are just seeing the tip of the iceberg,” said Knoblock, who currently serves as the executive director of the Information Science Institute, an organization centered on researching AI and machine learning, including natural language, machine translation and information. “We are going to see a lot more opportunities for technology to improve things like medical care. We’re going to see the things that are already out there do much better.”

Panelists on a stage speak to a crowd
Ramsay Brown, chief executive officer of Mission Control (The AI Responsibility Lab), asked listeners to be optimistic about artificial intelligence. (Anthony Fu | Daily Trojan)

Gaia Dempsey — founder of 7th Future, a research consultancy centered on AI, augmented reality and Internet of Things technologies — first conducted an impromptu survey on attendees’ attitudes on chatbots in general. More than half of the audience said they were concerned about the changes brought by chatbots like ChatGPT. Noting the audience’s apprehension, she offered a glimpse of hope, discussing a solution she and her team have been working on: simulating possible futures. 

“We use techniques in flowing scenarios, building scenarios and forecasts, to try to come up with concrete future scenarios that we think are grounded in a technical reality, and also flesh out what we think these different futures could look like,” Dempsey said.

Ramsay Brown, chief executive officer of Mission Control (The AI Responsibility Lab), said it was important to maintain a sense of optimism on the development of AI, while still being cognizant of its potential to disrupt industries and replace human jobs. Mission Control helps companies move AI faster while breaking fewer things, dedicating to maximizing the revolutionary gains that AI is bringing the world while minimizing the harms, risks and negative consequences of this transformational technology.

“A lot of people have basically run out of positive visions of the future at large,” Brown said. “One of the things we’re missing is having meaningful, actionable realistic discourse about the remaining major problems we have … the type of work [AI companies] are doing is the cornerstone of that, because you need to have realistic visions of where this is going that is better than today.”

Both Knoblock and Dempsey said there were benefits to having a basic knowledge about AI and its real-world applications, simply due to the high demand at present for such technology. They also encouraged students to explore different fields in AI, such as machine learning and natural language processing, by taking courses in computer science, data science and statistics.

Roy Gantz, a sophomore majoring in public relations who attended the forum, said he had a change of heart about developments in AI following the event.

“I really liked Ramsey’s comment about optimism,” Gantz said. “It’s really true that everything I see is so negative … and it’s important that we try to imagine the best-case scenario, rather than just going straight to the terrifying movie.”