This college opened a one-of-a-kind AI lab

An innovative approach to artificial intelligence at the University of Rhode Island is open to the public

What if a special lab at the University of Rhode Island (URI) could educate the community on the ethical, technological, and social consequences of artificial intelligence (AI)?

That’s what Karim Boughida, dean of the URI Libraries, is counting on with a unique AI lab in the Robert L. Carothers Library at URI.

Students, faculty members, state officials, business people, and community members can all use the lab for answers. And although AI labs have been around for decades, this is the first-of-its-kind in a common area, open to the public.

The lab’s goals are two-fold:

  1. Students can use it to create cutting-edge projects, such as robotics and the Internet of Things (IoT) for smart cities to help with traffic flow, for example. It can also teach about AI’s impact in politics. For example, students can learn how to create a fake news algorithm on social media—like when a hacker creates a virus—and influence an election, or how to create an algorithm to counter fake news to stop it from spreading on social media.
  2. Faculty, businesses, and the community can use it to explore ethical, economic, and even artistic implications of emerging technologies. “We want to emphasize the role of ethics in terms of understanding and how we implement decision-making in the future,” says Boughida. For example, truck drivers may be out of a job in 20 years or so, due to self-driving vehicles.

How the lab operates
Funded by a $143,065 grant from the Champlin Foundation, the lab has a Nvidia supercomputer as its centerpiece. It includes software-focused makerspaces and design-thinking labs, creating a multidisciplinary environment that’s rare in academic buildings, Boughida says.

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