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AI & Society: Tulane Computer Science Professors Explore Emerging Technology

April 18, 2024

Artificial intelligence is transforming the world, enabling revolutionary advances like driverless cars and virtual assistants like Siri and Alexa. A revolution is underway, with more change in the works via AI applications in healthcare, criminal justice, manufacturing, cybersecurity, finance, and more. AI can make us healthier, safer, more productive, and wealthier.

The frontier of AI-enabled systems also presents significant challenges. AI has the potential to displace workers and challenge conventional understandings of intellectual property and copyright. It may be inadvertently perpetuating systemic racism. Bad actors are already using AI to amplify disinformation campaigns.

Public response to AI is understandably mixed. A 2022 study by the Pew Research Center showed disparate opinions about AI: 

  • 45 percent were equally concerned and excited
  • 37 percent were more concerned than excited
  • 18 percent were more excited than concerned

Questions and concerns over the future of AI help explain why Tulane University established the Tulane Center for Community-Engaged Artificial Intelligence. Tulane Computer Science faculty members with AI expertise lead the center.

“Across the country, there is a growing tech backlash concerned that AI may exacerbate existing disparities, widen the digital divide or otherwise result in a less just society,” says Nicholas Mattei, associate professor of Computer Science at Tulane and an expert in AI ethics. “Often these concerns grow out of a sense that these technologies are applied to people and communities, without their input.”

The center’s motivating principle: AI must earn trust by instituting systems “that are demonstrably fair, transparent, and accountable, that establish meaningful relationships to engage diverse communities in all stages of the AI process, from design through deployment, and that augment, rather than replace, human interaction, i.e., are human centered.”

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About the Center: Community-Engaged Artificial Intelligence

The Center for Community-Engaged Artificial Intelligence is one of five Centers for Excellence at Tulane. It aims to address AI’s potential for both benefits and risks across various sectors, including healthcare, economics, education, and criminal justice. To do so, the Center combines interdisciplinary collaboration from across Tulane with community involvement.

The Center gathers Tulane Computer Science faculty with experts from other fields, reflecting AI’s extent across academic disciplines and industries. Scholars work with community stakeholders to develop human-centered approaches to AI that address societal needs and concerns, mainly focusing on bias, discrimination, and community involvement. The Center initiates projects to evaluate and develop inclusive, fair, and transparent AI technologies, fostering partnerships and best practices to mitigate risks and maximize benefits for local communities.

Center Leadership & Faculty: Meet Tulane’s AI Experts

Two Tulane Computer Science faculty members play significant roles in the Center:

  • Aron Culotta, an associate professor of Computer Science at Tulane’s School of Science and Engineering, directs the Center. Culotta investigates computational methods to discover socially beneficial knowledge from text and social networks, e.g., tracking diseases, measuring the effectiveness of public health campaigns, and identifying unsafe products. His courses include Natural Language Processing, Artificial Intelligence, and Online Social Network Analysis. 
  • Nicholas Mattei is an associate professor of Computer Science. He researches the theory and practice of AI, focusing on problems that require a blend of techniques to develop systems and algorithms that support decision-making for autonomous agents and humans. His courses include Intro to Data Science, Intro to Artificial Intelligence, and Multi-agent Systems.  

Both professors bridge the gap between computer science and other fields by working with public health experts, social scientists, economists, and others to understand and improve AI systems.

Center Projects: Explore AI’s Impact in the Community 

The Center takes varied approaches to its exploration of AI’s impact, including panel discussions (“How AI is Changing the World”), lectures, podcast episodes (“Beyond algorithms: Establishing trust and transparency in the AI era”), symposiums, and film screenings with discussions (“Hacking Your Mind: Weapons of Influence”).

Four key targets define the Center’s mission: 

  • Investigating community experiences and perceptions of AI via surveys and focus groups, exploring how AI plays out across demographics and working toward reducing bias in AI systems
  • Investigating new computational methodologies for community-driven AI, innovating in fundamental AI areas to create trustworthy systems
  • Equitable AI for digital health, investigating human-centered approaches to co-design AI-based digital health applications for mental health and obesity interventions
  • AI for discrimination detection, using the Center’s community-driven AI framework to spotlight discrimination in hiring decisions, housing, credit markets, mental healthcare, and criminal justice proceedings

Forging Community Partnerships in New Orleans and Beyond 

Tulane’s location in New Orleans facilitates collaboration between the Center and a variety of nonprofit and government agencies, locally and across Louisiana. They include:

  • CourtWatchNOLA, a nonprofit promoting transparency, equity, and justice in the criminal court system. The Center works with CourtWatch NOLA to build data systems that improve transparency and oversight.
  • Eye on Surveillance, which works to reduce the use of surveillance tools such as facial recognition and improve their oversight.
  • The Data Center, which collects data to support rigorous analysis of issues facing Southeast Louisiana.
  • City of New Orleans Office of Information Technology and Innovation, which promotes the effective, cost-efficient use of technology in business management and service delivery.
  • Families Helping Families, which connects people with disabilities to information and referral, training and education, and peer-to-peer support. The Center helped Families Helping Families develop a chatbot tool that provides parents of children with disabilities easier access to information.

How This Center and Our AI Expertise Benefits Students

Earning an online MS in Computer Science at Tulane enables students to learn from computer science faculty engaged in forging the field’s future. The program facilitates close interaction with professors and peers through live classes, study sessions, group projects, text interactions, and online offices.

Students work at their own pace and choose electives based on individual interests. The program combines virtual classes with self-paced, project-based assignments. Small classes and an interactive platform allow direct communication with instructors and other students. On average, students spend two to three hours per week, per credit hour, completing homework and assignments. Each course with three credit hours has one 75-minute live session per week.

AI plays a significant role in the online MS in Computer Science curriculum. Students customize their program with a specialization, with AI included among the six options. Electives such as Machine Learning offer additional AI content. The thought leadership embodied in the Tulane Center for Community-Engaged Artificial Intelligence attests to the quality and relevance of the program. 

Study With Industry-Leading Experts at Tulane

Earning an online MS in Computer Science at Tulane means studying alongside faculty experts who perform community-oriented research in a cutting-edge sub-sector of the computer science field. Begin your journey today by contacting an enrollment advisor or filling out an application.

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