Benjamin Banta, associate professor of political science, encourages his students to debate AI. In his Cyberwar, Robots, and the Future of Conflict course, he touches on removing the soldier from the battlefield and the decision-making process via drone warfare.
He poses the question, “What if an algorithm decides to kill someone?”
For Banta, it’s important that RIT approaches generative AI technology holistically, rather than from a position of assumed technological progress and optimism.
“I prompt students to ask whether we need it, why it’s being developed and promoted in certain areas, and how it ultimately should be utilized if we want to promote a thriving democratic society,” said Banta. In the classroom, Banta understands that some students will use generative AI as part of their research process. He encourages students to then go to the original sources and not to copy text from AI verbatim.
“RIT is on the forefront of technology, and it’s important that our students are deep thinkers,” said Banta. “When our graduates go out, invent the next big thing, and make a billion dollars, I also want them to be thinking about these issues. It’s important to be users of the technology—not used by the technology.”
Juan Noguera, assistant professor of design, has also thought about AI from the start. Last fall, he challenged his industrial design master’s students to see how they could use AI as part of their design process.
Noguera himself has used AI image generators to augment his ideation process. With a simple text prompt in DALL-E 2, users can get a flood of unique images.
He likens it to getting inspiration from reading a book or a trip to the museum.
“With my students, this project sparked amazing conversations about authorship, ethics, and the evolution of our design discipline, with students seeing parallels with the introduction of computer-aided design and the internet,” said Noguera.
For the project, industrial design master’s student Jayden Zhou sought to design a musical instrument. At first, he prompted the AI image generator Midjourney to create “futuristic sci-fi stringed instruments.”
In the end, he developed an electric violin with a fingerboard that illuminates as the instrument is played. Zhou wrote that he could see AI changing the process of creation, but not the essence of creation.
Other students in the class created assistive technologies, a chair inspired by fruit, and shoes made out of fungus. They all used AI in different ways, but noted how it led them down an unexpected path. Noguera was impressed.
“AI technology is not going away anytime soon,” said Noguera. “As educators and forever learners, I believe we have a responsibility to explore it.”