June 13, 2024
image depicts the 'storyteller from the future,' Karen Palmer

Karen Palmer, Storyteller from the Future

The Intersection of AI, Art, and Data [Ethics]

In the ever-evolving technological landscape, one concept stands out as both a beacon of progress and a source of intrigue and concern: artificial intelligence (AI). Once confined to the realms of speculative fiction and film, AI - particularly generative AI - has emerged as a tangible force reshaping the fabric of our reality.

While we've long interacted with AI-driven technologies, the recent advancements in Generative AI and expansive language models have sparked a renewed interest and critique of how AI could fundamentally reshape society. As Soroush Vosoughi, Assistant Professor of Computer Science at Dartmouth, states, “We cannot put the genie back in the bottle.”

The origins of AI date back to 1956, when the term was coined at Dartmouth during a pioneering summer research project. The program brought together researchers who “thought about ways to make machines more cognizant and [who] wanted to lay out a framework to better understand human intelligence.”

Fast-forward to today and Dartmouth remains at the forefront of AI exploration, fostering interdisciplinary collaborations that push the boundaries of AI research and the data informing AI. From events critiquing, questioning, and analyzing bias in algorithms to the Dartmouth AI Conference and collaborative projects such as MedSimAI, Dartmouth continues to expand the conversation and generate new knowledge. For Roopika Risam, Associate Professor, Film and Media Studies & Comparative Literature, cross-departmental collaboration is necessary and exciting, particularly to foster conversations about data ethics across campus. 

Data is a currency on which Dartmouth, like any institution, runs. As a faculty member in the Digital Humanities and Social Cluster Engagement, data ethics and the human side of data are integral to our thinking. We very much want to collaborate with colleagues across campus to facilitate broader conversations on these topics, intending to promote critical reflection about the many ways we use and teach about data on campus. - Roopika Risam

So, in April 2024, curious thinkers, artists, storytellers, ethicists, humanists, data scientists, and more gathered for a “Data Ethics & Storytelling Hackathon*.”  

To confront the growing ubiquity of data, especially misinformation and other misleading data, it is not enough merely to identify algorithmic bias or critique biased or incomplete datasets. Rather, we need to change how we perceive, move in, and operate in a changing world.

Jeremy Mikecz
image of Karen Palmer in front of a presentation slide that reads, the future is not something that happens to us, but something that we create together.

This Libraries co-sponsored event invited award-winning artist and TED speaker Karen Palmer, the Storyteller from the Future to give the opening keynote. For the event organizers, Karen’s “work on AI biases and her inventive approaches to immersing audiences in understanding data ethics,” was a natural fit to launch the day. 

For one of the Hackathon’s co-organizers, Jeremy Mikecz, Research Data Science Specialist at Dartmouth Libraries, the day-long event was a wonderful reminder of the value of artists in confronting a data- and AI-filled world. “[Artists] can help us recognize patterns we cannot see, perceive the world in a new way, and force us out of our comfort zones.”

Karen remained true to her reputation. She told a spellbound audience how human survival will come from the power of storytelling. Through her art and film projects, she asks and answers how storytelling experiences might reprogram the brain—to be transformative and empowering experiences that move participants from “the information age to the age of perception” because, as she said, “this info age is doing us a disservice. What we need is to expand our perception (not just take in more information).” 

The success of her immersive artworks is due in part to partnering and collaborating with experts in computational science and data sets. “Art and technology are two pieces of the puzzle that come together to solve an issue,” said Karen. Fundamental to that is understanding how data sets are built and then creating them to be fit for purpose. Karen and her project partners built their own data sets and made them open-source so anyone can use the work. “It's transparent, so what you see is what you get. There are no secrets here,” she shared.

Karen’s keynote was the perfect spark to ignite the room and energize those participating in the day’s activities, which included:

  • a data at Dartmouth roundtable
  • a sovereign data roundtable
  • the hackathon!

In essence, AI has transcended its fictional origins, emerging as a tangible force that permeates our society. Through collaborative endeavors like these, we not only explore AI's possibilities but actively shape its trajectory. "We need to make visible the conversations about data happening in pockets around campus — so we can promote open conversation and possibilities for collaboration," said Roopika. "With so many connections between the Digital Humanities and Social Engagement Cluster and the work of our colleagues in the Libraries, these collaborations are a natural fit."

Are you ready to embark on this journey with us?

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