The Penn State Center for Socially Responsible AI to Promote Thoughtful Development and Application of AI

Penn State will launch a new, multi-unit research center this spring – The Penn State Center for Socially Responsible Artificial Intelligence – with the goal of promoting the thoughtful development and application of AI and studying its impact on all areas of human endeavor. It will support research focusing on AI for social good and mitigating threats from its misuse, and will encourage the consideration of the social and ethical implications as well as intended and possible unintended consequences of AI.

“Given the rapid expansion and progression of interdisciplinary research and the wide-ranging impact of artificial intelligence on society, this center will engage and enable Penn State scholars and educators to work together and use AI to address the grand challenges of our time,” said Andrew Sears, dean of the College of Information Sciences and Technology (IST).

To better enable multidisciplinary research and educational programs that will shape the future of AI, the center will bring together researchers from diverse disciplines across the University – including the colleges of Earth and Mineral Sciences, Engineering, Health and Human Development, IST, and Medicine; the Smeal College of Business; Penn State Law at University Park; Penn State Outreach, and the Institute for Computational and Data Sciences. Prasenjit Mitra, associate dean of research in the College of IST and a co-founder of the center, will serve as inaugural director.

“Artificial intelligence both has important legal applications and, as it’s used in a growing set of contexts, raises major legal and ethical issues,” said Hari Osofsky, dean of Penn State Law and the School of International Affairs. “One of this new center’s great strengths is that it is structured to encourage collaboration across the breadth of disciplines that need to interact to address these challenges.”

“We’re looking at the creation of AI-based technologies and the implications of their use,” said Mitra. “For example, the internet was initially used by professors to share publications; commerce wasn’t allowed, so no one was really thinking about security. This time we cannot make the same mistake of thinking in silos. Now, we must think about how we can advance new technology while also taking into effect its full societal impacts.”

The center’s initial funding will come from Penn State’s Office of the Executive Vice President and Provost.

“Penn State has the expertise and resources to grasp the near-infinite opportunities and ever-evolving nature of AI,” explained Sears. “This center demonstrates the University’s commitment and our collective responsibility to not only continue our pursuit of innovation but also ensure the thoughtful application of what we are creating.”