UI2 Symposium 2021

AI & Society Symposium—Day 1

AI & Society Symposium—Day 2


The Utah Informatics Initiative (UI2) and Tanner Humanities Center hosted a two-day symposium on September 21-22, 2021, dedicated to the intersection of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Society. On Day 1, Rice University Distinguished Professor Moshe Vardi delivered the keynote address, "Ethics-Washing in AI." On Day 2, six University of Utah researchers presented their work studying artificial intelligence, followed by a panel including Professor Vardi, Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs Dan Reed, and Tanner Humanities Director Erika George.

AI is pervading everything—from things we anticipate to things we would not. We may appreciate the use of AI in drug discovery and self-driving cars, but many may be uneasy with AI being used in the classroom and the courtroom. The AI tools we have invented not only change the way we accomplish tasks, but may also change our patterns, habits, and even our way of thinking about the world. A proactive view of this evolution does not ask of us, “What do we do?,” but rather, “How do we shape our new tomorrow?”


AI and Society is—arguably—a technological area of study, with its own set of tools that are generated through that inquiry and the way we live and interact. AI will impact not only our individual lives, but possibly even the principles of our social contract. This symposium seeks to highlight research spanning the development of these technologies, their applications across campus and understanding their impact.


The term AI and Society may immediately resonate with those in the STEM fields; however, nearly every aspect of intellectual pursuit is being impacted by artificial intelligence. AI and Society is a STEAM and beyond effort. This symposium is meant to be cross-campus—involving every aspect of society, spanning social and behavior sciences, law, the humanities and fine arts as well as medicine, engineering and science.


"Ethics Washing in AI"

Moshe Y. Vardi

Rice University

Over the past decade Artificial Intelligence, in general, and Machine Learning, in particular, have made impressive advancements—in image recognition, game playing, natural-language understanding and more. But there were also several instances where we saw the harm that these technologies can cause when they are deployed too hastily: A Tesla crashed on autopilot, killing the driver; a self-driving Uber crashed, killing a pedestrian; and commercial face-recognition systems performed terribly in audits on dark-skinned people.

In response to that, there has been much recent talk of developing ethical standards for AI. Many organizations produced AI-ethics guidelines and companies publicize their newly established responsible-AI teams.

But talk is cheap. "Ethics washing" — also called “ethics theater” — is the practice of fabricating or exaggerating a company’s interest in equitable AI systems that work for everyone. An example is when a company promotes “AI for good” initiatives with one hand, while selling surveillance tech to governments and corporate customers with the other.

I will argue that the ethical lens is too narrow. The real issue is how to deal with technology's impact on society.  Technology is driving the future, but who is doing the steering?

What is the Utah Informatics Initiative (UI2)?

Digital technologies (informatics) permeate almost everything we do.

The University of Utah's Informatics Initiative (UI2) empowers students to be digitally aware, digitally literate and digitally enabled. If job preparation and workforce development are your priorities, UI2 is ready to help you navigate the courses, certificates and degrees that explore digital technologies, and then to expanding your knowledge and enhancing your skills in these industry-critical areas. And if you are an educator, we are here to help you design and deploy engaging course material; find fellow researchers and seed funding; and broaden your knowledge and professional network through symposia.  Put into the language of the why, what and how:

For more information about UI2, visit informatics.utah.edu, or contact its Executive Director, Professor Mike Kirby.

The Tanner Humanities Center advances humanities exploration and engagement through academic research, educational enrichment, and public outreach. The activities reflect a vision of the humanities as not only relevant, stimulating, and cutting-edge, but also essential for developing critical thinking, tolerance, and respect on campus and in the community.

To learn more, visit thc.utah.edu.