Artificial intelligence can be a complicated thing to understand. It is a broad term that covers many different aspects of computer science. The average university student may not be aware of it, but AI is something that affects them on an everyday basis.
“A lot of times when students first come in (to a class), they think of artificial intelligence as the Terminator,” said Jake Lee, acting chair of BGSU's computer science department. “But when a college student views Netflix or uses a music streaming service or does online shopping, their (AI) tools tell them what they might be interested in.”
On a broader scale, AI is involved with numerous industries that use computers or machines.
While they may not be deadly half-man, half-machine renegades out to save a small child from a police-impersonating cyborg, there are companies that use AI to build robots and machines in order to save time or money. These are commonly seen in assembly lines or factories. One of the popular and innovative uses of AI is Tesla’s self-driving car.
With such potential behind these algorithms, is it plausible the average college student could take advantage of this ever-expanding technology?
At BGSU, it is within reason. The instruments and information are at the fingertips of anyone looking to gain knowledge in the field.
“The computer science (department) is doing both theoretical aspects, in terms of how the algorithm is being developed for artificial intelligence – and also we need to apply that. That is the other part of the curriculum,” Lee said.
Bringing different perspectives into the classroom and in the field could make for seminal work, but there are always eyes on the negative side of AI, which comes when the technology is in the hands of the wrong people.
This could be intentional, such as autonomous weapons programmed through artificial intelligence systems, or it could be completely accidental coding errors that cause a self-driving car accident. BGSU students have seen this first hand with spam messages delivered to university emails.
These phishing emails are designed to cause a reaction in the reader, said BGSU’s Chief Information Security Officer Matt Haschak.
“There’s not really a lot of technical genius behind writing a phishing email that gets you to click on a link. It’s the manipulation of humans. … With AI, once you get the technology behind it, it’s ‘I want to get someone to react in a certain way,’” Haschak said.
However, this provides an opportunity for the university to use AI to its advantage.
“A lot of the products we use to help protect or defend against attacks … they’re all built on certain types of behavioral based activity. They learn user behaviors, and they understand where a person normally logs in from and what they tend to do, so if that person logs in from another location but they go to another site they don’t normally go to, the systems evolve and use that behavior of a person in order to help alert us,” Haschak said.
Not only can BGSU use AI for protection, there is potential in online classes for any subject. Instead of behavioral based AI, there are programs that can fine tune curriculum based on how well a student may or may not be doing during specific questions or lessons.
“We will probably take some more time but … within each course, the pace of the course can be controlled by the AI. So if you were taking a math course, let’s say calculus, some might be doing good at the beginning so that the pace of the course can go faster. Then later when the student struggles, (the program) will give more examples and more exercises for the student to get engaged with a difficult topic so that they spend more time on it,” Lee said.
According to Lee, faculty members have discussed beginning research on bringing AI into admissions as well as the classroom.
“There is so much student information. How does this GPA or this course grade impact a student coming here? Or what are the other things that we can look into for a student to come to BGSU?” Lee said.
As it stands now, artificial intelligence is something students come across every day, if not every hour, based on how smartphones are used. Looking into the future, it may become an even bigger part of a student’s time at a university, for better or worse.