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New K&L Gates Presidential Fellows To Further Research on Responsible AI

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Peter Kerwin
University Communications & Marketing

Carnegie Mellon University has selected four K&L Gates Presidential Fellows for the 2023-24 academic year. Sponsored by the K&L Gates Endowment for Ethics and Computational Technologies(opens in new window) at CMU, the fellowship program will provide financial support to doctoral students Lingwei Cheng(opens in new window)Anna Kawakami(opens in new window), Sara Mahdizadeh Shahri and Zeyu Tang(opens in new window), enabling them to further their studies on ethical and policy issues surrounding artificial intelligence.

“It is a great honor to receive this prestigious award,” said Tang, a Ph.D. student in the Logic, Computation and Methodology program(opens in new window) in the Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences'(opens in new window) Department of Philosophy. Tang’s work aims to leverage the power of causal learning and reasoning and focuses on the ethical considerations of computational techniques. “To me, this is not only recognition but also heartwarming encouragement that reinforces my determination to pursue the safe, responsible and principled development of machine intelligence.”

Eleven K&L Gates Presidential Fellows have been selected since the program was established in 2016. All of them will be presenting highlights from their research this week in the lightning round talks that will take place during the CMU-K&L Gates Conference in Ethics and AI(opens in new window) on June 21-22 at the university. Read the bios of all 11 K&L Gates Presidential Fellows(opens in new window).

“The fast development of computational technologies renders our era full of opportunities and challenges,” Tang said.“Having a responsible and safe way of developing machine intelligence is of crucial importance, and this is especially the case as we witness the bloom of recent technical advances such as ChatGPT and Midjourney. The K&L Gates Presidential Fellows Program provides an invaluable platform that invites communication and collaboration among scholars from different backgrounds.”

"It is incumbent on us, as academics, to create space for our students to consider the social ramifications and technological-ethical hurdles of AI alongside its exciting opportunities." 
— Illah Nourbakhsh

Anna Kawakami is a Ph.D. student in CMU’s Human-Computer Interaction Institute(opens in new window), where she researches the design, evaluation and governance of AI-based decision-making algorithms in complex, socio-organizational contexts like social services. She said she enjoys tackling research problems that require her to form a deeper understanding of people, communities and organizations to design interventions that are well-grounded in real-world behaviors and systems.

“Receiving the K&L Gates Fellowship helped reaffirm our research team's belief that the work we are doing is important and has the potential to make positive real-world improvements to current trends in how AI is designed and deployed,” Kawakami said. “Through the upcoming K&L Gates Conference on Ethics and AI(opens in new window), I am excited to meet other people working in this space, to learn from their endeavors and exchange ideas.” 

Sara Mahdizadeh Shahri is a Ph.D. student in electrical and computer engineering(opens in new window) at CMU’s College of Engineering(opens in new window)Her research, which bridges computer architecture and software systems, aims to introduce equity in the context of data center systems. 

“Existing data center systems are fundamentally inequitable in several ways. So, it is critical to systematically analyze when such prioritization-based solutions can cause biases, compromising equity,” Shahri said. “I am excited about my research as I believe it can provide a basis of such analysis in the context of data centers, and consequently enable a data center design paradigm that prevents discrimination against users from under-resourced communities.” 

Lingwei Cheng is a Ph.D. student in Public Policy and Management(opens in new window) at CMU’s Heinz College(opens in new window). Her research interests include understanding the social and economic impact of algorithms, improving human-AI collaboration and fairness, accountability and transparency in machine learning. As a research analyst at the University of Chicago’s Inclusive Economy Lab, she built predictive models and evaluated programs in homelessness, workforce development and post-secondary education.

Carnegie Mellon University has been at the epicenter of AI since the discipline was created in the 1950s and CMU visionaries Allen Newell and Herbert A. Simon pioneered AI and cognitive science. Their quest to make machines think not only led to new insights about cognition, language and vision but opened the door to a novel and powerful approach to computing that is now shaping our world.

Today, CMU faculty, students and researchers are pushing the boundaries of AI in both autonomous technologies and technologies that augment human abilities. At the same time, many scholars at CMU are stepping back to take a look at how humans actually use these technologies, to help ensure that these discoveries are harnessed to benefit humanity.

“Artificial intelligence has entirely broken out of the sandbox of academic research. It is touching society and influencing culture already. So, it is incumbent on us, as academics, to create space for our students to consider the social ramifications and technological-ethical hurdles of AI alongside its exciting opportunities,” said Illah Nourbakhsh(opens in new window), a professor in the Robotics Institute(opens in new window)

“CMU is a perfect place for this inquiry because we are utterly interdisciplinary, and there is nothing siloed about this work,” Nourbakhsh added. “We are committed to creating the space for our learners to traverse boundaries effortlessly, bringing together the many disciplines of expertise at CMU together to solve the grand challenges society faces.”

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