Hollis Robbins, Dean of the College of Humanities
What inspired you to focus on AI and its impacts in your work as a humanities scholar and dean?
Scholars and writers in humanities disciplines have been grappling with concepts of artificial consciousness and mechanical humans for centuries. Sophisticated new technologies such as ChatGPT have suddenly made engaging with artificial voices a daily occurrence. We have jumped at the chance to test and improve these new technologies.
How do you think the humanities can contribute to discussions about the ethical and social implications of AI?
With a canon that spans centuries — perhaps millennia — of human history pondering artificial intelligences, we in the humanities begin with a recognition that today’s versions of AI are both old and new. Every literature professor has seen students who approach fictional characters as if they were real. Disturbing events in fictional texts often trigger real life emotions. We bring this experience to AI conversations.
In what ways do you see AI affecting the future of work and education?
AI models such as ChatGPT can help all of us write first drafts of just about anything. We can also ask questions that might not usually be asked, like which of the Federalist Papers discuss the importance of education. Such information can already be asked on, say, Google, but with ChatGPT the information is packaged for you and you can follow up with related questions.
How do you think we can ensure that AI is developed and used in ways that are inclusive and equitable?
As I recently wrote in the Chronicle of Higher Education, currently, AI writing is technically proficient but culturally evacuated. Until culturally inflected AI is developed, models such as ChatGPT will stand apart from culture. Knowledge production within culture will not fully be absorbed by AI. Specific and local cultural knowledge will become more valuable. We in the humanities are asking the critical questions about the relationship of AI and culture.
What are some of the key skills that you think students should be developing in order to succeed in a world increasingly shaped by AI?
Students need to start using it! And so should faculty and staff. Fortunately almost everyone in the College of Humanities has been as enthusiastic as I am about the opportunities and the challenges of daily encounters with AI.