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A spirit that is not afraid

New university artificial intelligence initiative continues film festival

<p>AI@AU, a new initiative on campus, hosted the first of five movies to inspire conversation about the impact of artificial intelligence on students, society and truth.</p>

AI@AU, a new initiative on campus, hosted the first of five movies to inspire conversation about the impact of artificial intelligence on students, society and truth.

Auburn University’s Artificial Intelligence Initiative will host the second of five film showings on Tuesday, Sept. 12, in the Foy Union Ballroom. Next week's film is "I, Robot," a 2004 detective tale about the moral implications of sentient machines.

The recently created University-wide initiative called AI@AU focuses on connecting faculty with artificial intelligence-related research and education. They held the first showing of the festival on Aug. 29.

Goodwin Philpott Eminent Professor of Religion Adam Jortner led last week's discussion on the topic of “AI and Truth” after showing the 1968 sci-fi classic "2001: A Space Odyssey."

The film series comes as national conversation about AI has reached a fever pitch. Applications such as ChatGPT allow users to interact with AI models that synthesize information based on databases of previously collected information.

Attendees included a wide variety of members of the Auburn family. Faculty from the College of Education and the College of Science and Math, as well as students and staff from across campus, showed up to contribute.

The film opens to a dark screen as the orchestra swells in the background. The camera pans to show the sun peeking from behind a planet. Richard Strauss’s "Also Sprach Zarathustra, Op. 30," the iconic performance also in blockbusters like “WALL-E” and “Barbie” makes numerous appearances throughout the movie.  

Gabriella LaRocca, senior in political science, joined the AI@AU initiative following a class with Jortner.

“We had an entire day about AI and '[The] Terminator,'” LaRocca said. "I had a lot of questions, and so he asked if I wanted to be involved with the project, and I said yes."

Like many, LaRocca is concerned about the effects of AI and its applications. 

“I’m personally very afraid of AI,” LaRocca said. “What’s so scary about AI is that you can’t hold a machine accountable.”

LaRocca made connections to her previous coursework within the Department of Political Science. 

“What we're prompted to think about is if a state has access to [AI], and it becomes as public as it already is, then how does it play a role in warfare?” LaRocca said. “If you have a drone that's operated by AI, and the AI malfunctions, and a bomb is dropped on a civilian area, who does that country hold accountable?" 

Jortner expanded on the role he sees Auburn University playing as the technology hits the mainstream.

"Auburn's entire AI program actually has a deep interest in these philosophical, but also practical, questions about what constitutes consciousness and knowledge," Jortner said. “What are going to be the moral, social and economic impacts of artificial intelligence? And the more important question, how are students going to change those decisions?"

Additionally, Jortner emphasized how important it is for students to learn about AI.

“We don’t teach about AI so our students can passively accept it,” Jortner said. “We teach AI so our students are going to be leaders in not just building it, but also creating the societies that [have] artificial intelligence and that [use] it wisely."

Finally, Jortner does not see AI applications like ChatGPT as a threat to education. 

“[Learning] requires work. It requires time,” Jortner said. “And that’s something we really want to preserve.”

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Luke Lipien, freshman in marine biology, was surprised by the film. 

"I thought the first part was an 'Airplane' satire, but then as it evolves as a psychological horror, it's just so unnerving," Lipien said. 

Jortner hopes the humanities component of AI@AU will inspire meaningful questions about using artificial intelligence. 

“We can’t just say it’s efficient and it makes economic sense, therefore [we've] got to do it,” Jortner said. “The idea that there is no question there is wrong.” 

Screenings will be held biweekly until late October for a total of five films shown. AI@AU will hold the last showing on October 24 and feature "Tron," a 1982 film combining sci-fi and action elements. Its cult-following led to a franchise of the same name.

The third film of the series is on Sept. 29 in Foy Union Ballroom where the initiative will show "Ex Machina." AI@AU will announce future events on their Instagram.

Connor Copeland | Campus Editor

Connor Copeland, freshman in English literature, has been with The Plainsman since fall 2023

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