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Experts discuss AI at U. event

The Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy hosted an online event featuring four experts to discuss the implications of artificial intelligence.  – Photo by Matheus Bertelli / Pexels

On Friday, the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy hosted a webinar on the impact of open data and generative artificial intelligence on society and public policy.

This forum consisted of a panel of government, academia, business and media experts, and started with each of them giving their position statement on open data and AI.

The panel opened up with Poonam Soans, chief data officer and director of app development at the New Jersey Office of Information Technology, giving her position on the issues.

Open data and AI allow anybody with a computer and connection to the internet to access datasets, filter data and visualize it, Soans said.

When state agencies are open with their data on natural events like hurricanes, viewers worldwide can make inferences regarding the data, no matter if the weather event personally impacts that person, she said.

"The three big benefits of open data are if it's a one-time effort, you put the data set onto the cloud, and then it is there for anyone. It provides broad access. You can access it from any country. It is completely open. So you do not need a login to look at the data. And you can build on top of the data. So that is the three big benefits," Soans said.

Next, Rakesh Kumar, vice president of Information for Computing Science and director of the Center for Vision Technologies at SRI International, was invited to share his position statement.

Kumar said he takes a more down-the-middle approach to this topic, as open data and AI allow for both huge advancements and potential challenges.

"Another big challenge is it's very expensive to train these models. Only big companies with large pockets have been able to do this. It is very expensive to even use them. And so, for these applications to be running on the edge, a robot to run on the edge, you can't assume the robot will always be connected to the internet." Kumar said.

The panel discussion continued with the position statement from Clint Andrews, a professor at the Bloustein School. Andrews said that his position primarily revolves around the future of open data and AI, precisely the complexities surrounding ownership of open data. He said it is up to individuals, organizations and the government to resolve this tension.

The opening statements from the panel members concluded with one more from Rachel Rosenthal, a member of the editorial board at Bloomberg. 

Rosenthal said that her position focuses on the importance of the media when it comes to the ongoing discussions surrounding AI. The biggest issue in today's media landscape regarding AI is the lack of clarity about what constitutes news or analysis, she said.

Policymakers must understand some of these core issues so they are completely informed when creating solutions in the AI world, she said.

Following the opening statements from each panelist, specific questions were posed to the panelists that related to their respective position statements.

Andrews was asked a question regarding how AI and open data will contribute to the shaping of society and future societies and communities.

"I think more often, the AIs are going to be complements rather than substitutes for humans. That said, I would not be complacent in any job. And I would be thinking about how do I make sure that I know how to use this new set of tools effectively," Andrews responded.

Rosenthal was asked to present her opinion on regulations on open data and AI, to which she responded that she is on the side of being willing to give AI a real chance. As a journalist, she said she has used AI to enhance her own research capabilities.

So when it comes to regulation, she said she understands that there is a need for regulation of AI, but this approach should favor a more free use of AI, and as problems occur, make the necessary regulatory changes.

The panel discussion finished with Kumar concluding on the current and future of open data and AI.

"I just wanted to say this is a very exciting time," Kumar said. "It is a time where there are lots of rapid developments happening, and it's for us as a society to leverage them for the good. But it is an exciting time for all of us."

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