Designing Artificial Intelligence with Ethics in Mind

Empow Studios collaborates with MIT for AI & Ethics summer program

Learning the value of ethical design in AI

Cambridge, MAEmpow Studios & MIT Media Lab’s Personal Robots group have collaborated to launch a one-week summer program in AI & Ethics, for families in/around Cambridge. Under the direction of Cynthia Breazeal, director of the Personal Robots group within MIT’s Media Lab, graduate student Blakeley H. Payne has developed curriculum via her Masters research, and have collaborated with Empow Studios for program design, staff, and expertise running STEM education programs across MA. The program is designed with a mission to communicate the importance of ethics in AI applications, and challenge students to work collaboratively on activities that spark problem-solving & design-thinking skills. The week is punctuated with a favorite: a re-design of YouTube’s recommendation engine.

What’s important to note is how often we interact with AI on a daily basis. It’s much more common these days to have conversations with Alexa, Siri, and the numerous Personal Assistants found in our smart devices. Conversations start with input data that utilize a technology called Natural Language Understanding to understand the user’s intent, just like a human would. After capturing intent, these apps use personalized data sets to gather information and respond back with prompts that is most likely to answer the question from the user. Additionally, the app can ask more questions to clarify to increase the likelihood that it’s responding with the appropriate answer. It’s similar in a recommendation engine like YouTube or Spotify, which takes in data from the media you watch or listen to, and compiles media assets that you may enjoy for the next piece of content. As you interact more with these platforms, these applications get smarter and more personalized. These are very common traits in a successful implementation of artificial intelligence.

“Children today are not just digital natives, they are AI natives — growing up in a time where they will have always been able to talk and interact with intelligent machines,” says Cynthia Breazeal, director of the Personal Robots group at MIT’s Media Lab. “They are using AI-powered products and services all the time in their social media, video games, personal electronics, and more. It’s important they understand not only how these systems work, but how they might impact themselves and others — both positively and potentially negatively. Our children are the future designers of such systems. Let’s help them to be ethical designers.”

“In this day and age, understanding how AI works is like having a superpower. But as we all know: with great power comes great responsibility!” says instructor & MIT graduate student, Blakeley H. Payne. “It’s important that as the current and future designers of AI, kids understand who is affected by AI and how to design with those people in mind. Learning ethics is key training in becoming an AI superhero.”

The collaboration of Empow Studios & MIT is a needed one for AI education, and bringing it to the City of Cambridge is extra special for Empow. Empow Studios has been a key contributor to delivering year-round STEM / STEAM education across a number of schools in Cambridge.

“In business, education and community; The City of Cambridge is the center for STEM. As a part of that community, Empow proudly runs STEM programs with many Cambridge Public Schools as well as summer camps at Cambridge Friends School. Adding a low-cost summer program for local families will open up opportunities for an even wider audience,” says Will Neville, Empow Studios Outreach Director. “Collaborating with MIT is a perfect way to create innovative programs for this community that we call home.”

Leonid Tunik, founder of Empow Studios, has invested quite a bit of time and resources in building curriculum in advanced technology subjects like, Virtual Reality (VR), Augmented Reality (AR), 3D design, and more. “AI is a transformative technology that is already changing the way we work, shop, interact, and communicate,” says Leonid. “We’re very excited to collaborate with the MIT Media Lab Personal Robots group on this program. The MIT AI curriculum takes our mission of making STEM learning accessible to a whole new level.”

To learn more about this one week event, please visit the AI & Ethics summer program page.

Program Details

June 24 – June 28


MIT Media Lab
75 Amherst Street
Cambridge, MA 02139