Exploring AI for Social Good: A Deep Dive with Yu Chen

by | Oct 17, 2023 | Community Engagement, Featured

Associate Professor Yu Chen enlightens her students with a captivating lecture. Photo by Robert C. Bain

The rapid progression of artificial intelligence (AI) is transforming the way we work, which in turn is changing the landscape of education. The question remains: Is this change good? Yu Chen, associate professor at the School of Information Systems and Technology in the Lucas College and Graduate School of Business, is cautiously optimistic. Over the summer, she was featured in a California State University (CSU) article showcasing her work as the director of a multi-university AI for Social Good (AI4SG) education project.

Yu Chen is an Associate Professor at the School of Information Systems and Technology in the Lucas College and Graduate School of Business. Photo by Robert C. Bain.

Yu Chen is an Associate Professor at the School of Information Systems and Technology in the Lucas College and Graduate School of Business. Photo by Robert C. Bain.

On Wednesday, October 18, the Office of the Provost, in partnership with the SJSU King Library, will host a University Scholar Series where Chen will speak about the AI for Social Good education project and topics such as inclusive AI education. In this Deep Dive in Five, learn more about Chen’s AI4SG project and what the future of interdisciplinary AI education might look like.

What drives your interest in studying AI for social good?

Yu Chen (YC): Advances in AI have the potential to influence our economy and society and improve our overall quality of life. Meanwhile, it is imperative for our society to remain committed to long-term sustainability goals. With this in mind, we hope students are equipped with the necessary knowledge in the rapid-evolving field of AI to prepare them to be the future leaders and innovators for a sustainable society. Unfortunately, current AI education mainly emphasizes technical aspects and lacks a multidisciplinary approach, as well as diversity. The AI for Social Good project is designed to cultivate students’ innovation and prepare them to learn through hands-on activities that extend beyond the classroom and into their communities.

What role do you see colleges playing in advancing research on the use of AI for social good?

YC: The AI for Social Good project is inherently interdisciplinary, with the potential to draw expertise from faculty and students from diverse disciplines such as science, engineering, social sciences, health, humanities and art. Furthermore, AI for social good encourages collaboration with industry partners, non-profit organizations, community stakeholders and governmental sectors. This collaborative ecosystem is pivotal in leveraging cutting-edge technologies to address some of the most urgent and challenging issues in our society.

In April, you launched the App Design for Social Good Challenge. How did this idea come about?

YC: For the past few years, I have been volunteering to teach computer science in high schools, and I’ve consistently been awed by the creative and inquisitive young minds. In collaboration with the Instilling Goodness and Developing Virtue School in Mendocino County, we embarked on a pilot project known as the “App Design for Social Good Challenge” in spring 2023. This initiative aimed at engaging students, starting from 4th grade and beyond, to identify social issues within their communities and then design applications to address these problems. The challenge also involves the creative task of drawing or designing user interfaces for these apps. We were delighted with the outcomes of the challenge, as it highlighted the remarkable empathy and creativity displayed by these bright young minds.

What AI for social good projects and opportunities can SJSU students participate in?

YC: While our current curriculum incorporates AI for Social Good in only a few courses in the College of Business, there are many opportunities for students to collaborate with professors in their specific disciplines on a diverse array of issues, spanning climate change, environmental concerns, sustainable energy, wildfire management, housing and traffic solutions. SJSU also hosts several innovation-support programs, including the annual Silicon Valley Innovation Challenge, organized by the Lucas College and Graduate School of Business, and the SpartUp Incubator program, sponsored by the Division of Research and Innovation.

In collaboration with the CSU Chancellor’s Office, we had the privilege of organizing and showcasing select student AI for Social Good projects during the inaugural CSU AI for Social Good Innovation Symposium. We are keen to expand this platform and extend an invitation to more students to present their projects within the broader realm of AI for social good during the upcoming symposium next year. Additionally, we extend an invitation to faculty from diverse disciplines who may be interested in piloting the AI for Social Good curriculum within their classrooms, thus exposing students to essential AI literacy.

For people who are still unsure about using AI or are struggling with it, what would be your message to them?

YC: My perspective on AI is characterized by cautious optimism. I find myself hopeful about its potential in tackling significant societal challenges. AI has already made its presence known in almost every industry, and this trend is expected to persist, reshaping the landscape of job opportunities by both replacing traditional roles and creating new ones. It is important to fully embrace the opportunities that AI offers while remaining committed to the ethical development and deployment of AI systems for benevolent purposes. This entails a shared responsibility among system designers and developers to ensure that AI is harnessed ethically and conscientiously. Consumers, too, must play a pivotal role in using AI intentionally.

Learn more about AI for Social Good.