AI4ALL Summer 2019: Columbia University
What inspired 2 Columbia professors to bring AI4ALL to their campus
Dr. Desmond Patton, Associate Professor at Columbia University’s School of Social Work and founding Director of SAFElab, and Dr. Augustin Chaintreau, Assistant Professor of Computer Science at Columbia University, are co-directors of Columbia AI4ALL, a new AI4ALL location launching in summer 2019. One of the things that make AI4ALL summer programs unique is the opportunity for high schoolers to work with accomplished researchers like Dr. Patton and Dr. Chaintreau. To give you an insight into their interests, perspectives, and goals for the program, we interviewed Dr. Patton and Dr. Chaintreau. Read on to learn more about what inspired them to bring an AI4ALL program to their campus and why they see that it’s crucial to equip young people of color with the tools to become AI changemakers and leaders.
Columbia AI4ALL will admit 20 10th graders from the NYC area and will run July 8-July 26, 2019 at Columbia University. Applications will open soon. Keep an eye on our website for updates.
AI4ALL: Dr. Patton, in your work, you combine social work, sociology, and technology to examine the relationship between youth, gang violence, and social media. How did you become interested in these topics?
DP: The work has really been driven by youth. Earlier in my career, I followed up with a group of young high achieving Black men who were navigating high rates of community violence and school. These young men described to me how social media shaped violence in their community and how they used it to navigate safe and unsafe spaces in their community.
AI4ALL: Dr. Chaintreau, how did you become interested in computer science, specifically in the area of the intersection of personal data and social networks with fairness and privacy? Also, why did becoming a professor intrigue you and how do you think teaching can benefit others?
AC: I entered computer science as a research engineer in 1998 at a time where the deployment of the Internet was reshaping big and small things everywhere. We talked about fairness all the time, but it was about very specific problems like how to ensure various applications can harmoniously share communication resources. Like students I teach and supervise every day, I guess I’m intrigued to have a peek at the future, prepare for it, and collectively make a difference.
When I realized a few years ago that personal data, how we collect and use them, will be a tectonic change in our lives, I choose to become a professor. That’s the only position where you can interact with students in so many disciplines to really understand what’s at stake, and constantly have their interest at heart.
AI4ALL: How did you hear about AI4ALL and what prompted you to start an AI4ALL program at Columbia?
DP: I started a similar program at Columbia in Summer 2017 called Digital Scholars Lab. I was looking for similar programs, found [Princeton AI4ALL], and followed up. I wanted to shift our program to an AI4ALL model in order scale beyond New York City and to offer comprehensive training in AI that is couched in a social work/social justice context.
AC: Learning about Desmond’s Digital Scholars Lab was inspiring. My students and I — as computer scientists and allies to make computing more inclusive — have so much to learn, practice, and change. When [Desmond] mentioned AI4ALL and how a partnership can scale his impact beyond local students, we were glad to see how we can be useful.
AI4ALL: Why do you feel that it is important to bring more young people of color into AI?
We need diverse opinions, perspectives, and ideas in order to have equitable technology experiences. Folks of colors are dramatically missing from AI development, training, and jobs. I believe AI4ALL is instrumental in changing that.
AC: I’ll give a personal, if not partial, answer. One can claim in theory that the overarching goal of AI is to build systems that distill complex information to allow the systems to improve themselves so well that they are aware and respectful of the full breadth of human experience. But let’s get real: deploying AI will mean generalizing decision-assistants to go beyond obvious economy of scale, providing a pretty good hint in many situations, basically something like “life’s auto-complete.”
Today, who gets to design, contest, or even just understand AI goals, tradeoffs, or risks — a very small group — concentrate a rare degree of power.
AI4ALL: How do you think that programs like AI4ALL can help to increase diversity and encourage young people of color to be involved in AI?
DP: It’s all about exposure, network, and community. AI4ALL exposes young people to AI while demystifying the idea that AI is only for a certain demographic. They are then wrapped in a support network of peers and adults who can support them in getting the skills they need to excel in AI while also having the psychosocial support to push through challenging times.
AC: The last few years spent recruiting and teaching undergraduate and graduate students in computer science showed me there is a lot of work remaining to address gender diversity but some effective tools exist. Diversity in terms of ethnic, socioeconomic background is even more arduous to address and this is where immersion program like AI4ALL that start early and combine technical education with a higher purpose are more likely to make a difference. I think AI4ALL brings critical know-how to people like me who miss a lot of the background, especially if I could not count on Desmond’s experience. I also think AI4ALL helps make the effort visible to create vocations and start a movement.
Learn more about the AI4ALL summer program experience by following #AI4ALL19 on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. We’ll be sharing student stories, interviews with program directors and AI researchers, and more over the next couple of months.