CS492/692 - Spring 2016 - Assignment 4

Artificial Intelligence and its Threat to the Public


The field of artificial intelligence (AI) is concerned with creating algorithms and systems that enable computers to carry out problem solving tasks on behalf of users, ones that require a certain level of sophisticated intelligence. Several applications of AI have resulted in notable benefits to the public, including the use of robots to search for survivors in disaster areas, improvements to the design of online search engines and the mining of vast stores of information to assist in medical decision making. Certain members of the public have been increasingly concerned about the AI programs that are being designed and the uses to which they have been put. For example, increasingly clever  machine learning techniques suggest the possibility of launching man-made systems which have the  autonomy to take critical actions, without sufficient control. The AI community is aware of these  increasing concerns and has begun to mobilize, examining what guidelines can be developed for researchers to follow.

For this assignment you will be working in groups of 4 (with groups being formed by the instructor and the TAs, in an effort to balance the talents of the students of the class). You will be asked to produce a report which covers the following topics: (i) what is artificial intelligence? (ii) what are some of the possible benefits of AI and why are they enabled by AI? (iii) what are some of the concerns with current AI research? (iv(a)) what would you recommend to AI researchers, in order to continue to enable benefits from their research, but to address concerns from the public? (iv(b)) what do you recommend to the public, with respect to their actions and reactions to AI research?

The assignment is due on Thursday June 30 at 10am. It should be on the order of 2500 words. (Some kind of introduction and conclusion should be included, in addition to the coverage of the four core subtopics listed above).


This assignment examines a very topical social implication of computers. This is a concern which can easily be misunderstood or blown out of proportion by members of the public who are unable to fully comprehend what can reasonably be produced from AI research. The fact that the AI community itself has begun to reflect on the limits of their own research makes the topic a very interesting one to examine in detail. The challenge is to try to imagine what the two primary sectors can do, when they are not operating with the same level of knowledge, and how to continue to enable benefits to accrue without limiting the kind of free exploration of research that leads to critical new discoveries.

The focus for this assignment is on open-ended thinking, guided by current articles on the topic. There is no right or wrong answer. Students are urged to be creative and constructive in their recommendations.