Auburn Engineering professors shaping future of AI in Alabama through work on state commission

Published: March 27, 2020
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As artificial intelligence and related technologies become more entrenched in our daily lives, in everything from personal finance to health care, two Auburn University researchers are helping the state of Alabama stay ahead of the curve.

Samuel Ginn College of Engineering professors Hari Narayanan and Gerry Dozier are lending their expertise as members of the Alabama Commission on Artificial Intelligence and Associated Technologies.

The commission, whose members were appointed by leaders in state government, is tasked with advising Gov. Kay Ivey and the legislature on AI technologies and making policy recommendations to best position the state to take advantage of these emerging technologies.

“Our hope is to provide a set of recommendations that will help the state of Alabama become a national leader in the area of AI,” said Dozier, the Charles D. McCrary Professor of computer science and software engineering. “I believe AI will affect everyone in some very exciting and positive ways. It's important that we embrace it and be prepared.”

Subsets of artificial intelligence, such as machine learning and deep learning, are already in use today, ranging from personal assistants such as Alexa in smart devices to parking assistance and collision avoidance systems in vehicles. Future advances in this technology will lead to more accurate health care diagnoses and better optimized manufacturing systems, among other improvements.

The 25-member commission is broken up into five subcommittees: state regulations, government oversight and potential legislative action; education and workforce development; health care and medical services; future and evolving industries, economic development and research; and ethics, privacy and security.

The commission will present a report to Ivey upon the conclusion of its work in May. Dozier is serving as a lead author of the report.

“The report is expected to provide guidance on helping the state's existing industry to evolve, attracting new IT industries to the state, supporting start-ups, spurring academic research in the state, producing graduates with the requisite skills to enter the workforce and developing training opportunities for the existing workforce,” said Narayanan, computer science and software engineering chair and the John H. and Gail Watson Professor. “It is also expected to review and make recommendations on avoiding potential pitfalls of employing these technologies on a large scale, such as bias and discrimination in business decisions, violations of privacy and ethics, or the creation of new vulnerabilities.”

Alabama was only the third state in the nation to name a commission on artificial intelligence, although New York has since become the fourth. Given the state’s proactive approach, commissioners expect the body’s recommendations will allow Alabama to better adapt to these new technologies and position itself as a leader in this area.

“K-12 and higher education curricula have not evolved sufficiently to incorporate these technological advances, and opportunities for up-skilling the state's workforce to become literate in these technologies are not widely available,” Narayanan said. “Therefore, building a foundation to prepare for the impact of these technologies is critical to the future economic prosperity of Alabama.”

The commission is led by Alabama Commerce Secretary Greg Canfield as chair and state Sen. Jabo Waggoner, R-Vestavia Hills, as vice chair. Waggoner visited the college in 2019 to learn about Auburn University’s many research initiatives in artificial intelligence.

Auburn University is a nationally ranked land grant institution recognized for its commitment to world-class scholarship, interdisciplinary research with an elite, top-tier Carnegie R1 classification, life-changing outreach with Carnegie’s Community Engagement designation and an undergraduate education experience second to none. Auburn is home to more than 30,000 students, and its faculty and research partners collaborate to develop and deliver meaningful scholarship, science and technology-based advancements that meet pressing regional, national and global needs. Auburn’s commitment to active student engagement, professional success and public/private partnership drives a growing reputation for outreach and extension that delivers broad economic, health and societal impact.