Artificial Intelligence Symposium highlights

Morgan Mawn, News Contributor and Jaycee Kalama

11 a.m. to noon

The first panel of the symposium began at 11:05 a.m. and reached a broad range of topics during the discussion entitled “The good, the bad, and the ugly of AI and robotics.”  The speakers of the panel included Jason Millar, assistant professor in the School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, Cindy Grimm, associate professor of mechanical engineering, Geoffrey Hollinger, assistant professor in the Collaborative Robotics and Intelligent Systems Institute at OSU and Stephanie Jenkins, assistant professor in the School of History, Philosophy and Religion at OSU.

The panel then allowed each speaker to give a brief opinion of what the greatest risk and the greatest benefit of the widespread adoption of AI and robotics are. Grimm began by explaining that a large benefit of AI will be its ability to complete simple tasks, allowing people more time to tackle larger issues.

Grimm went on to explain that the flip side of this is as AI becomes more common in daily, simple tasks, the public may become too trusting of these systems and allow them to make decisions that may be beyond their capability. Hollinger believes that ocean monitoring will benefit greatly from AI’s ability to gather data, but also recognizes that comes with the risk of AI being able to collect data in a place where privacy is generally expected, such as in a person’s home.

“AI will give us the ability to have insight into large data sets,” Millar said.

He went into detail explaining that many current data-collecting systems are inefficient and rely on many people to make coordinated decisions. Millar goes on to reference the recent Facebook case of using collected data in possibly illegal ways to represent what he believes to be the biggest risk.

“AI concentrates power and control in unprecedented ways,” Millar explained.

Jenkins, the only non-robotics or AI focused expert on the panel, offered a different and interesting take on the question.

“Robotic and AI technologies will be able to improve the lives of people with disabilities,”Jenkins said.

She went on to detail how improved technologies such as self-driving cars may improve accessibility and mobility for those with disabilities. On the flip side, she also believes that this could cause the pressure on people with disabilities to fit in to increase. For example, as programs such as one that could translate spoken words into a text grow in popularity, the use of sign language decreases. This decreases the deaf culture and may cause these people to feel a need to assimilate more.

As the panel went on, panelists expanded on many of the ideas already presented. For example, the Waze app relies on AI to develop better paths for drivers to take. However, it doesn’t always consider that if you give the same people the same easier path, the new route becomes a pit of traffic. After being prodded by questions from the moderator and audience, the panelists went further in describing the imperfections and downsides of AI and robotics while still keeping a focus on the developments and improvements of the field.

Noon to 1:30 pm

After the first panel, the symposium broke for lunch at the CH2M Hill Alumni Center and the Innovation Fair. The Innovation Fair consisted of more than 60 different demonstrations and displays that the audience could interact with. Some of the groups presenting their research projects included the Crescent Valley High School robotics teams and the School of Mechanical, Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering from OSU. Many of the people wandering around the fair were OSU students, nearby high schools or just local people curious about the emerging technology.

7 to 8 p.m.

Each club, program and organization at the Innovation Fair had a different aspect of technology to highlight. The Virtual Reality Visualization club at Oregon State demonstrated two collaborative virtual reality projects called Mindstates and Salmorine: A River Systems Project. Both projects involved the combined efforts of new multimedia communications students. The Mindstates project is meant to express concepts of anxious and calm states of mind using virtual spaces. In the Salmorine project, individuals play as an intern that is researching salmon and their habitats, while collecting dietary samples. The main focus is to bring awareness to the complexities of a river system.

Sean Cunnington, a fourth-year digital communication arts major and member of the club said, “We have a VR lab, not many people know that, and we encourage everyone to come out and try it.”

Along with virtual reality, there are many robotics displayed as well. One booth demonstrated the use of something called soft robots. Most robots are made of plastic or metal. A soft robot is made of materials that make it adaptable and flexible, such as 3D-printed silicone.

Graduate student, Callie Branyan explains the graduate program involved in the use of soft robotics. “The program is specifically looking at how we can bring robots to the real world. Our lab is focused on how we can use mechanics and physics to expand capabilities in a specific environment, using soft robots.”

Technology such as this, can be applied to the real world in many ways. For example, it can be used in medical applications, such as, a way to use soft robots for medical examinations and surgeries. Soft robots can be used for exploration of any unknown environment.

Technology does not just include robotics and machinery. Technology is the application of scientific knowledge for practical purposes. One display highlighted the Go Baby Go program at OSU. In this program, children ages 0-3 who experience limited mobility, are provided modified ride-on cars for the purpose of providing them with the opportunity for movement, mobility and socialization. This is just one example of advancement because it involves the interaction of humans and technology.

Jenna Fitzgerald, a fourth -year public health major and three year member of the Go Baby Go program, said, “Go Baby Go allows children with disabilities to further their cognitive development and increase their social interaction with the use of modified ride-on cars.”

Today was a day to acknowledge the advancing technology in the developing world. Many of these advances are being used to better people’s lives, their jobs, and many more applications to the real world. Whether it be medical advances, human development, or the use of virtual reality to create a better understanding of underwater habitats, every display and demonstration included the use of technology for the purpose of bettering today’s world.