UF selected to help develop national AI curriculum with focus on ethics 

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — The University of Florida joins a select group of institutions nationwide in a new National Humanities Center initiative to design college-level curriculum that explores how to develop and deploy ethical artificial intelligence technologies.

With support from Google, faculty from 15 universities in the center’s “Responsible AI” program will create and implement courses that help students think through the ways in which AI technologies are integrated into everyday life and how to design AI that fosters equity across business, government and society.

A top-ranked public university, UF is hiring 100 faculty focused on AI and is the first university in the country to introduce AI curriculum across disciplines to equip graduates for the workplace of the future. Further, as a result of the public-private partnership between UF and Silicon Valley-based technology company NVIDIA, UF is home to one of the most powerful supercomputers in higher education, known as HiPerGator, and more than 6,000 students are currently enrolled in AI or data science courses.

UF’s collaboration in the center’s “Responsible AI” program underscores the value of incorporating the humanities in the study of AI, as faculty from these fields bring insights into morality, history, ethics and critical thinking, said Joe Glover, UF’s provost and senior vice president of academic affairs.

“We aim to ensure all students at the University of Florida have the opportunity to engage with AI technology in their journeys as scholars and future professionals in an AI-enabled workforce,” Glover said. “This partnership with the National Humanities Center is a powerful step forward in further positioning UF faculty and students as prominent voices in the national conversation about developing ethical, equitable AI technologies to help solve the planet’s most pressing problems.”

As AI technologies increasingly infiltrate aspects of everyday life, such as transportation, hiring practices, policing, medicine and even art, the humanities are a crucial component in discussions of how to design and use AI ethically, said Barbara Mennel, the Rothman Chair and director of UF’s Center for the Humanities and the Public Sphere, part of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

“Technology does not occur in a vacuum, and algorithms are not completely detached from humans. At some point, humans are involved, and they bring biases with them,” Mennel said. “This is where the humanities can help. We’re proud to be part of this overarching effort across UF to help a generation of undergrads learn about AI in a holistic way. My hope is that this curriculum will be a model for bridging the gap between the humanities and technology.”

As part of the program, a UF faculty member will participate in an intensive, weeklong workshop at the National Humanities Center, an independent institute dedicated to the understanding of the humanities. Together, faculty from partner universities will design courses focused on responsible AI to offer undergraduates during the 2023–24 academic year. Faculty will revisit the National Humanities Center in 2024 to assess the impact of the courses and make recommendations for their future distribution to other institutions across the U.S. and globally.

The UF faculty member will not only return from the program with a new course in hand, but also “the entire conversation they're having with the other 14 universities and a larger vision of the possible collaborations between humanities and technologies on campuses,” Mennel said.

The new course also will enhance the Center for the Humanities and the Public Sphere’s ongoing efforts to engage students and community members in learning and thinking critically about AI technologies, Mennel added. These efforts have included a speaker series on data and democracy and a recent virtual “salon” that unpacked the basics of AI and deep learning. Current AI-focused courses offered by departments and centers in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences examine the history of technology, the ethics of AI and how technologies affect race and gender.

“The University of Florida's AI initiative is an impressive investment that promises to make them a leader in AI research and teaching in the years to come,” said Robert D. Newman, president and director of the National Humanities Center. “Their campus-wide, interdisciplinary approach to AI aligns very well with the aims of our ‘Responsible AI’ program. Both recognize how pervasive AI technologies are becoming and how important it is to align them with ethical considerations. In recent years, we've had the privilege of working with UF faculty and graduate students in several of our other programs and are delighted to have the chance to partner with them on this exciting new effort as well.”

UF News February 15, 2022