Artificial Intelligence for the Human Race

Through his philanthropy, Frank M. Fawzi ’84 MMS ’87 is helping to drive the SIAI forward.

“We emphasize the human in our work,” says Jason Corso, Stevens Institute for Artificial Intelligence (SIAI) Director and Brinning Chair Professor of Computer Science. “We see AI as a means for moving into the next era of computing with better, cooperative machines working alongside us.”

With Corso’s leadership and Fawzi’s support, the 50 faculty and research experts who comprise the SIAI collaborate to advance AI and machine learning to serve humanity. The SIAI’s impact-oriented mindset provides the thematic context for their work across a broad set of focus areas, including Art and Music; Cognitive Networking and Computing; Cybersecurity; Environment and Energy; Fintech; Foundations of AI and Machine Learning; Healthcare and Biomed; Robotics, Perception and Human-Machine Interaction; and Societal Impact.

Fawzi’s interest in the SIAI goes beyond loyalty to his alma mater. As CEO of IntelePeer®, a venture capital-backed company that draws on automation, AI and analytics to help its clients improve customer experience, Fawzi is deeply invested in the potential of AI to help businesses understand the needs of their customers. “AI is an essential element in determining customer intent and then acting on it,” he explains. “By collecting data across communication channels, we can correlate words and tone from voice calls, social media, etc., to determine what consumers really want and need. We can keep that information on record and use it to make the customer experience better than ever.”

Fawzi and IntelePeer® are determined to make this powerful capability available to mid-market companies. “Our clients have had a tough time rivaling major corporations in creating a more intuitive customer experience,” he says. “We are democratizing AI capabilities.”

“But we haven’t scratched the surface of the opportunities that AI presents,” Fawzi continues. “Stevens and the SIAI are working in under-investigated areas that align with the university’s strengths. For example, they are drawing on their expertise in finance and fintech, fields where there is plenty of room to explore the use of AI.”
 
The SIAI, which also receives foundational research sponsorship from the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes for Health, the Department of Defense and NEC Laboratories America, Inc., is ready to rise to the challenge. “The SIAI is in its early stages of establishment and growth,” notes Corso. “We are building AI literacy programs and creating initiatives like the AIRS Fellowship Program for undergraduate research.”

The 2021 theme of the fellowship program is “Humans and AI: An Evolving Partnership.”

“Selected projects are targeting questions under this theme to better understand and enhance the relationship between humans and AI,” Corso says. “As a scholarly community, we are beginning to ask questions like, ‘How should AI augment human capabilities?’ rather than, ‘When will AI replace humans?’”

“AI is a broad term to capture an evolution of computing where the systems we use or are exposed to are instantiated not only by computer programming but also by domain-specific data,” Corso explains. “Together, these systems create enhanced capabilities. AI is an umbrella to pattern recognition, machine learning, deep learning, related subfields like natural language processing, and computer vision. Some may even consider robotics a part of AI, or at least a close sibling.”

“And it is already pervasive,” he continues. “AI capabilities already drive what ads we see in web-browsing, what videos are recommended to us on streaming services, what recommendations for investing our banks provide, when our lane-following vehicles alert us to deviations from the roadway, when we chat with a virtual bot for help on a website or a telephone line, and more.”

Computing is mingling with our everyday lives, and Corso acknowledges that technology giving us the power to control our environment with a few words is pretty cool (as in, “Alexa, increase the temperature by one degree”). However, he also points out that in the grand scheme, how we compute is often quite slow and annoying. He envisions AI moving from current methods that are problem-specific and rely on large amounts of data, to developing capabilities that add value on a more personal level.

“I think the next wave of AI will begin to tackle the notion of personalization,” he says. “Personalized healthcare, personalized education, personalized information distillation. The field is ripe for this transformation. Now, we better appreciate the limitations of systems that rely on large, static datasets; we are comfortable working with evolving decision spaces; and we see AI systems increasingly as continually learning systems rather than static ones.”

“We are considering what guiding principles in intelligence that we can learn from humans,” Corso says. “We are also asking questions about the impact of AI on society, and we consider bias and ethics in our work,” Corso says. “We are technologists in support of humans rather than technologists in support of technology.”

Fawzi would like to see AI capability deployed toward the continuous improvement of customer experience. “I would like to help my clients serve their customers before those customers even need to call with a problem,” he says.

From this perspective, the SIAI is an excellent investment. “As AI becomes even more ubiquitous, we will be present to build systems for humans and AI to cooperate effectively,” Corso says.

He concludes, “AI is not a static system that is learned and deployed. The future of AI is a continual process.”