Smith Brain Trust / November 2, 2023

Smith Experts Assess Artificial Intelligence, Weigh in on the Biden Executive Order

The recent White House Executive Order on Safe, Secure, and Trustworthy Artificial Intelligence has been put forth as a sweeping measure to “deploy numerous federal agencies to monitor the risks of artificial intelligence and develop new uses for the technology while attempting to protect workers.” Politico further described it as a move to “streamline high-skilled immigration, create a raft of new government offices and task forces, and pave the way for the use of more AI in nearly every facet of life touched by the federal government, from health care to education, trade to housing, and more.” 

Prabhudev Konana, dean of the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business, has been out in front of the issue. His research has focused on the value of social networks and sentiments embedded within text and the business value of IT. Discussing artificial intelligence, he recently told the Washington Post for its Guide to Graduate and Executive Education: “AI systems, particularly Generative AI, have evolved fast and will get better and more ubiquitous. We should embrace, not resist, AI, and be aware of the strengths, weaknesses, dangers and opportunities.”

Regarding the executive order, Smith information systems professor Balaji Padmanabhan gives this initial take: “The order clearly identifies major opportunities to improve government functions and deliver services more efficiently. It further exhibits urgency to initiate specific plans to monitor and mitigate potential harm. Moreover, it meets a perceivable growing consensus in both the tech industry and academia for a need for clear federal guidance in AI, especially with the looming 2024 elections.” 

In academia, says Padmanabhan, MBA and other graduate programs, like Smith’s, “already are developing AI programs that can guide industry and government in many of these directions. In addition to a deeper understanding of AI capabilities, these new programs explore careful design of incentives and penalties, governance and management strategies, balancing short-term and long-term interests, and the future of labor itself.”

Professor and Academic Director of MS in Information Systems programs Tej Anand says Smith’s MSIS curriculum focuses on both the current and future risks of AI and teaches students methods and frameworks to mitigate these risks. “This includes understanding how to assess the bias in the underlying data and the resulting AI models; mitigating these biases; tracking the provenance of data that is training large language models; designing jobs and workflows that helps workers leverage human capabilities such as empathy, creativity, judgment and leadership in concert with capabilities of AI systems and models; designing AI systems to match the role that they will play for a given task.” 

Regarding the executive order, Anand says it represents a very important first step, but much still needs to be done. “A lot will depend on how the order is translated into details by NIST and other agencies over the next few months,” he says. “The order deals with future risks but does not address current risks of the AI that is being deployed, and we need to make sure that the AI companies who have the most to benefit and perhaps the most to lose do not overly influence the work of the agencies.”

The implications for healthcare are extensive, Anand adds. “For example, clinicians are responsible for the decisions made related to the health of a patient (they put their license on the line), AI systems providing decision support must be explainable and cannot be ‘black boxes.’”

Regarding healthcare – as well as education, Padmanabhan says the order’s upside is significant for patients and students: “The executive order can significantly spur the quality of educational content and delivery and help level the playing field for students. With all the technology and AI-driven capabilities we have, it seems unconscionable that education quality varies significantly based on the students’ physical location. Same for healthcare, especially with AI’s potential to ramp up quality care to seniors while cutting costs.”

AI, he concludes, “can bring the best ideas and personalized delivery of those ideas to patients – and students -- wherever they are.”

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