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AI for All

In a few weeks, I’ll be traveling with my son Nick to southwest England, where he will spend the next several months at a British university. I am excited for what he will be learning in his field of study — geographic information systems — and the new friends and adventures awaiting him there, but also because my solo journey home includes time to explore the English countryside.

Because I’ve never been to that part of England before and as a Floridian I get little practice using train systems, I thought I’d try a little experiment. I asked the artificial intelligence system ChatGPT to tell me which of the many quaint villages in the Cotswolds would be a good place to stay and to help me find a picturesque hotel with easy train access. Over the course of an hour on a Sunday morning, I asked ChatGPT lots of questions and the bot dutifully served up information and an itinerary, pointing me toward a lovely old inn where parts of the building date back to the 1400s and that’s within walking distance of both a train station and the Cotswold Way, a national trail. It’s not that I don’t trust ChatGPT’s travel advice, but I looked up reviews from my favorite travel apps before finalizing my reservations.

I’ll blame my caution on this new technology on my formative years rooted in the 1980s. I’m not phased when a computer asks, “Shall we play a game?” (WarGames, 1983), but I still ascribe to “Trust but verify” (Ronald Reagan, 1987). There would have been a time when I would have bought an armful of travel books, perused websites or asked a travel agent to do all this, but I can’t even remember the last time someone made reservations for me.

Plus, it was time for me to embrace the bot.

Recently, I was fortunate to visit Miami Dade College’s Wolfson campus on the eve of its new AI center opening. The stunning 5,000-sq.-ft. facility is where classes, workshops, events and activities will take place to prepare students to be a part of the future AI workforce and for the wider community to learn about the techology. MDC opened its first AI center last fall at its North Campus and its School of Engineering and Technology is offering three new college level programs in AI, among the first of its kind in the state. The classes start this fall with scholarships available.

The center is an important step — and not just for MDC, whose 150,000 students make it the largest undergraduate enrollment of any higher education institution in the country. Until recently, for students to gain access to education and training in AI they had to go to a major research university, which between selectivity and cost creates barriers to who gets to participate in the next wave of technology transformation. By forging partnerships with leading technology companies to open AI training, MDC President Madeline Pumariega not only is helping ensure students aren’t left behind in the AI-driven economy, but that a greater diversity of people are part of AI’s future.

MDC’s efforts to bring AI to the masses is even more important considering South Florida’s digital divide is one of the starkest in the nation. With one-fifth of Miami’s households lacking internet access, Florida International University researchers place Miami near the bottom of the state’s metropolitan areas in connectivity — a terrible place for a city that’s the leading edge of Florida’s technology sector. Miami is working to bridge that divide with community initiatives at the same time it’s working to ensure a new AI chasm doesn’t open.

We may be teaching machines how to “learn” and “think,” but it will still take people to provide neural networks with data and mathematical systems to make AI function. If there’s anything we should have learned from revelations on how the algorithms undergirding social media systems shape our communications, it’s that putting these systems in the hands of a select few can have unintended — if not disastrous — consequences.

Bringing diverse people, perspectives and experiences to the table in creating and training AI models is one way to ensure the transparency required to build trust in these new systems, especially as AI is incorporated into potentially life-altering uses such as healthcare.

To do that, it’s imperative to bring AI into public schools and state colleges to ensure all students have access to the training that opens doors to them in the digital economy. Goldman Sachs estimates popular AI tools could automate the equivalent of 300 million jobs worldwide. Workers don’t need to be displaced by automation if they are prepared for the jobs of the future and have a hand in creating new waves of technological advances.

I might be foolish to trust AI to not lead me astray; ChatGPT does get a lot wrong. For all I know, the photos of that charming inn might be deepfakes, the train schedules might be obsolete and maybe Google never mapped those paths forged before the Norman conquest. That said, there are worse places to be abandoned by a bot than back in time.

Find me on Twitter, @VickieCFLTrend, and LinkedIn.