New UT program puts focus on ethical AI, building robots to do ‘helpful tasks’

Austin

AUSTIN (KXAN) — How does society approach the ethical use of artificial intelligence and building robots?

It’s a question students at the University of Texas at Austin will soon have to take a deeper look into.

Called CREATE (Convergent, Responsible, and Ethical AI Training Experience for Roboticists), it will offer graduate coursework and professional development in responsible design and implementation.

“It aims to train the next generation of roboticists who can design ethical robots for different settings, in home, office, in a factory,” said Junfeng Jiao, associate professor in the UT School of Architecture, and is the program lead. “This will be one of the first, as far as I know, in ethical AI and ethical robotic education in the U.S.”

The program will help students understand the positive and potentially negative implications or their creations.

CREATE is a collaboration among Texas Robotics, industry partners and the UT grand challenge research initiative Good Systems, which seeks to design AI technologies that benefit society. The program was awarded a $3 million grant from the National Science Foundation through its Research Traineeship Program, which will support 32 doctoral students to receive coursework, mentorship, professional development, internships, and research and public service opportunities.

“If I stand on this side I am sure it will move around me,” said Professor Peter Stone, director of Texas Robotics. “The ambition is to have these robots be able to do many more things than just navigate in the hallways. To be able to do helpful tasks.”

Should we fear a robotic takeover?

“I don’t think people should be afraid,” Stone said. “I think people should be excited, but we should also have our eyes open and we should be cognizant of the exciting possibility and risks. We want to open the eyes of the students to who is the technology going to benefit, but who might it harm.”

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