AI’s unanswered questions

Illustration of Newton’s Cradle with the ball on one end representing AI and the ball on the other end representing the earth.
Image credit: Daniel Liévano
Author  Amita Parashar Kelly ’06
Published on 

From the moment we wake up and check our smartphone calendar to when we settle down at night to binge-watch our favorite TV series, most of us use technologies powered by artificial intelligence. AI has become an everyday part of life. It is more than just a buzzword—it’s a technological evolution that is redefining the way we work, communicate, and live.

It even wrote my opening paragraph. (Well, a first draft of it—my editor felt it needed some work.)

The machines all around us are better than ever—if not perfect—at mimicking human intelligence. Whether you’re aware of it or not, you likely encounter artificial intelligence throughout your day. AI can design your living room, find the fastest route for your commute, and spot fraudulent activity on your credit card. It helps doctors track illnesses and predict complications. AI has even been deployed to detect firearms on the grounds of the Michigan State Capitol. AI is reaching farther into our lives every day—for better and for worse. There are legitimate worries about how AI is changing our society. Bad actors can now easily turn a few seconds of a loved one’s voice into a fabricated plea for help or money, or dupe people into thinking AI-generated speeches or news clips are real.

Wellesley faculty and alumnae are on the forefront of shaping how we coexist with AI—a space that has quickly become ripe for innovation, regulation, and deep thinking on ethics. Those who work in fields touched by AI are steadfast in their goal to prepare both students and society to live in our AI-powered reality.

Scientists began putting their minds to artificial intelligence in the middle of the last century. British mathematician and computer scientist Alan Turing famously posed the question “Can machines think?” in 1950. He proposed a thought experiment now known as the Turing Test—a game in which a human tries to tell the difference between another person and a computer.

Throughout the 20th century, as computers became exponentially faster, cheaper, and more powerful, AI progressed as well.

In 1997, a global spotlight shone on AI when IBM’s Deep Blue computer (two black boxes that towered 6½ feet tall) beat the reigning world chess champion, Garry Kasparov.

Carolyn Anderson, assistant professor of computer science at Wellesley, remembers similar buzz around IBM Watson. In 2011, the supercomputer was put up against Jeopardy! champions Ken Jennings and Brad Rutte and won. Both examples showcased the power and potential of artificial intelligence.

Since then, AI has crept into many areas of our lives. In the last couple of years, media attention has focused on generative AI—language modules like ChatGPT that predict and generate new content.

This is an excerpt from a story by Amita Parashar Kelly ’06 that appears in the spring edition of “Wellesley” magazine. Read the full story on the magazine website.