Is it possible to enlist artificial intelligence (AI) ethically, equitably and in the service of justice? And what is the role of the humanities in this pursuit? The Mellon Foundation has awarded $1.3 million to Emory and partners at Clark Atlanta University, Georgia Institute of Technology and the DataedX Group to explore these questions through the creation of the Atlanta Interdisciplinary AI (AIAI) Network.
“If we are going to imagine more just and equitable uses of AI, we will need humanities scholars at the design table with technical researchers,” says Lauren Klein, the project’s principal investigator (PI). Klein serves as Winship Distinguished Research Professor of English and Quantitative Theory & Methods at Emory College of Arts and Sciences.
The AIAI network will foster research that blends humanistic ways of thinking with cutting-edge, machine-learning methods. Its goal is to showcase how Atlanta can serve as a model and national hub for work at the intersection of AI, ethics and social justice.
“The AIAI network is a particularly exciting collaboration in that it’s founded in a metropolitan city where 48% of the population is Black,” says Brandeis Marshall, CEO of DataedX and co-PI on the project. “Our work is keenly influenced by the known AI harms impacting Black people and other historically excluded groups in this city.”
Other project co-PIs are Rico Chapman, assistant dean of arts and sciences at Clark Atlanta and founding director of the Center for Africana Digital Humanities, and Carl DiSalvo, associate professor in the School of Interactive Computing at Georgia Tech.
Steering committee members include Emory’s Ben Miller, executive editor of Atlanta Studies and associate teaching professor of technical writing and digital humanities, and assistant professor of English Dan Sinykin, co-founder of the Post 45 Data Collective. André Brock, founding director of the PREACH Lab and associate professor in the School of Literature, Media, and Communication at Georgia Tech, also sits on the steering committee.
The AIAI network will draw inspiration from its inter-institutional collaborations and the role that Atlanta has long played as a nerve center for national conversations about racial justice.
“We can look specifically to the work of W. E. B. Du Bois, who spent 23 years at Atlanta University,” Chapman says. “In 1900, Dr. Du Bois conducted a comprehensive study of the Black experience using data and data visualization. His interdisciplinary, collaborative approach has become a hallmark of digital humanities in the 21st century. We think this model can be extended to apply to the study of AI while bringing a collective perspective on the importance of local.”
The network will launch this summer, inviting proposals from members of the Atlanta area research community for seed funding to initiate projects and collaborations at the intersection of AI, social justice and the humanities. The network also will hold public design and education workshops, as well as a speaker series.
In addition, the initiative is expected to offer courses in the fall, when Emory launches the Center for Artificial Intelligence Learning, and begins a new AI minor open to all undergraduates. These courses will join current offerings at Clark Atlanta and Georgia Tech, such as Chapman’s “Introduction to Africana Digital Humanities,” Brock’s “Whiteness and Technoculture” and DiSalvo’s “Creative Design Practice.”
Undergraduate and graduate student researchers are expected to be hired for AIAI network projects starting this summer. These will include an AIAI Data Collective (which will be modeled on the Post45 Data Collective) and a series of inquiries building on Klein’s existing work at the intersection of digital humanities, data feminism and data justice.
Other AIAI projects will include planning an annual conference and a special issue for the Atlanta Studies journal and symposium series about Atlanta and AI. Miller co-founded the journal and symposium series with colleagues at Georgia State University, Kennesaw State University and other nearby institutions.
Marshall’s community data workshops, grounded in the diverse culture of Atlanta, and DiSalvo’s research into ways different communities use technology to achieve social and political goals, also will recruit student workers in public engagement efforts.
“What Mellon is supporting with this gift,” DiSalvo says, “is a bold and audacious opportunity to create collaborations that center the humanities in our discussion of how AI can serve our collective aspirations.”