A typical nightmare scenario goes something like this: Robots first replace autoworkers on the assembly line. Then they move into white-collar jobs, writing articles, drafting legal documents and reading X-rays. Finally, the robots, growing ever smarter through machine learning and Big Data, displace even the most highly trained workers. The result: Unemployment rates skyrocket and the economy craters.
Another scenario: Robots become so intelligent that they not only can beat people in chess and on Jeopardy!, but they also think faster, better and more analytically than any of us. In time, robots subjugate humanity.
Milind Tambe thinks these dystopian visions, so popular these days, miss the mark. Instead, the Helen N. and Emmett H. Jones Professor at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering believes that the artificial intelligence undergirding the rise of the robots has far more potential for good than for evil.
To advance artificial intelligence research, Tambe and Professor Eric Rice of the USC School of Social Work have joined forces to co-direct the Center on Artificial Intelligence for Social Solutions, or CAISS. At the newly announced center, one of the first such university-based institutes dedicated to studying AI as a force for good, researchers will leverage artificial intelligence to address myriad problems ranging from climate change to security to health to homelessness.
“AI has continued its significant advancements in the past several years, and now there is greater potential than ever to apply computational game theory, machine learning, automated planning and multi-agent reasoning techniques to problems that are socially relevant,” Tambe said. “There is a very important opportunity here to really harness AI for social good.”
Added Rice: “Wicked social problems such as homelessness are incredibly complicated. AI provides us the opportunity to address them in new ways and yet provide concrete strategies for tackling these problems.”
CAISS will receive initial seed funding from USC Viterbi and USC Social Work as well as grants from federal and state governmental agencies. It will reside on the USC campus, although a permanent home has yet to be found. In addition to interdisciplinary research, the center will also feature conferences and guest lecturers.
A partnership between USC Viterbi and USC Social Work, the AI Center will launch with seven scholars from the two schools, with additional researchers expected to join later.
The USC Viterbi team includes Tambe; Phebe Vayanos, assistant professor in the Daniel J. Epstein Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering; Professor Gaurav Sukhatme, chair of the Department of Computer Science; and Kristina Lerman, project leader at the USC Information Sciences Institute and research associate professor in the Department of Computer Science. Representing USC Social Work are Rice; Associate Professor Shinyi Wu and Lawrence Palinkas, the Frances L. and Albert G. Feldman Professor of Social Policy and Health and chair of the Department of Children, Youth and Families.