In 2011, IBM’s Watson, a question-answering computer system, beat Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter, two of the most successful players ever to appear on the popular quiz show “Jeopardy!” All three contestants correctly answered final Jeopardy, but with supercomputer Watson sure to win, Jennings added, “I, for one, welcome our new computer overlords.”
The quip got a big laugh from the live audience, but 12 years later machine learning and natural language processing models like Watson aren’t just an amusing computer-versus-human story. Artificial intelligence is popping up all over.
Here is how some students, staff and faculty at Florida Gulf Coast University have welcomed AI into their work.
One student’s application
Emory Cavin is the FGCU Student Body President and a Board of Trustees member. In his role as a Housing and Residence Life intern, the communication major was tasked with gleaning insights from survey results taken earlier this year from housing residents.
With the open-ended survey responses, Cavin couldn’t rely on traditional methods to analyze trends in the data, so he turned to AI.
“I decided to get creative and, with the help of ChatGPT and a history of toying around with computer programming, I coded a program that would take in a completely anonymous list of responses, send it to OpenAI’s ChatGPT 3.5 to read, and then return a paragraph summary about the main points expressed by survey respondents,” he said.
Cavin estimated he saved the department $1,500 by eliminating the need to purchase a similar service from an outside company.
“Instead of having the department buy that, thanks to AI I was able to create this program in a few hours and now they can use it for any of their open-ended analysis needs. They can also put those savings into something that will more directly benefit students.”
Tech Toyland in a makerspace playground
In December, the Wilson G. Bradshaw Library hosted Tech Toyland, an event allowing students to test-drive innovative technology. One cool toy was a Meta Quest 2 virtual reality set.
Some may not think of virtual reality as AI. But AI-generated content for VR uses machine learning algorithms to analyze data and generate virtual objects and environments to create realistic and immersive user experiences.
The FGCU library is part of the Southwest Florida Library Network, a consortium of libraries in Lee, Collier, Charlotte, Glades and Hendry counties. As part of a technology mini-conference known as Makerpalooza that will be held across Southwest Florida Dec. 15, the network loaned the VR set, along with drones, robotics and crafting project tools.
“Our Southwest Florida Library Network partners were generous enough to bring these tech toys a week early so we could let the students have some time to play with them,” said Anna Karras, the library’s marketing and communications coordinator.
One of those students was Josmir Espinal, who earned his bachelor’s degree in May and is now a graduate student in psychology. He serves as a student ambassador for the library and was on hand to try out some of the toys. He used the VR set to explore a shark cage in a game called Ocean Rift. Wearing a white set of goggles, he looked at the ceiling and the floor and turned around in a circle.
“I see fish but no sharks yet,” Espinal said. Then he flinched. “Oops! Now I see one.”
Immersive experiences like virtual reality allow users to explore replicas of real-world locations or fictional environments. And in educational mode, users can learn more about the inhabitants of these environments.
Humann and the machine
Language and literature instructor Heather Duerre Humann teaches American literature, composition and creative writing courses at FGCU. Her new book, “A Tale Told by a Machine: The AI Narrator in Contemporary Science Fiction Novels,” was recently published by McFarland, a publisher of academic and nonfiction books.
Humann’s book explores fictional portrayals of AI in literature and film. She says these portrayals challenge humanist concepts of identity and selfhood, which are being reassessed in the 21st century because of AI.
“Humanist principles center and privilege humanity over animals and machines. AI poses a challenge to this framework since AI is capable of many things that were once thought of as strictly human domain,” she said.
These human qualities include writing — which OpenAI’s ChatGPT, Google’s Bard and Anthropic’s Claude are all capable of through predictive text — and thinking, which IBM’s Watson can simulate.
A fan of science fiction literature, Humann has taught the subject at FGCU and previously published scholarship addressing speculative scenarios in literature and film. However, with the recent developments in AI, she felt it was a ripe opportunity to publish a new book exploring AI’s impact on society.
“In many cases, storytelling about AI pushes readers to empathize with — and even relate to — AI in ways that might be unconventional, if not altogether uncomfortable, which works to underscore similarities between human intelligence and artificial intelligence.”
This article is the second in a series of stories about AI at FGCU.