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A Course in Artificial Intelligence and Robotics Offers Intriguing Possibilities

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Artificial intelligence (AI) has become part of our daily lives. Today, college courses teach business practices that are directly or indirectly linked to AI concepts, often when the technology is not visible or even known.  

As AI applications keep morphing into new avenues of operation and human-to-machine interface courses in artificial intelligence are gaining public interest, students may enroll in BUSN600, Artificial Intelligence Practices in Business. This course was developed to address such issues as benefits and costs of AI on business operations. Some of the issues that this course addresses are:

  • The various types of AI
  • Comparing and contrasting robots and AI systems
  • Humanoid AI robots of the future
  • Wearable technology
  • Ethical and social effects of AI
  • The future of AI

Students might have questions regarding the essence of AI, such as:

  • Why is AI so important for business professionals to learn about?
  • How can this advanced technology help business leaders and other decision makers?
  • What are some of the ethical and social issues that these courses address?

There are many terms that are used to describe AI and its application to our work and home life, such as knowledge engineering, machine learning, and neural networks. But part of studying the young history of AI is to find and describe terms like the ones used above and what they mean. 

As students examine their own AI definitions, they will explore what those terms precisely mean as they relate to various business applications. In other words, of all the new terms students will study, which ones contribute to some aspect of business operations? Of course, the definition of the specific types of business operations needs to be part of that discussion. 

Differentiating the Various Types of AI in Use in Business Today

One of the most important aspects of AI is differentiating the various types in use in business today from accounting to product selection to supply chain management and product replacement.

A key part of any course in AI is honing students’ research skills. They are asked to research uses of AI as well as express the pros and cons of each application. For example, how can AI be used to find an effective vaccine against COVID-19? Or, what about cyber defense? AI is used to help improve not only society, but also the secret world of intelligence and police work. There are many videos describing AI as well as books on how AI is used in industry for manufacturing.

Comparing and Contrasting Robots and AI Systems

Students are asked to compare and contrast the use of robots and AI systems in some business organizations or endeavors. Part of that student learning is to identify the strengths and weaknesses of the applications they find in their research. Also, students can learn by studying such topics as AI impacts on machine learning compared to human learning or from others who have participated in surveys of robots and humans interactions.

Another important part of this compare and contrast exercise is to have students agree or disagree on the strengths or weaknesses of robots and AI. Having students defend their position is essential to learning some of the complexities of artificial intelligence.

Students are also asked to find articles on how humanoid AI robots are being introduced into various businesses. This type of research begs the question of how best to use humanoid AI robots.

Other areas of research and weekly online discussion include wearable technology, which has been increasing over the past few decades, especially since the COVID-19 pandemic altered our lives. This becomes a fun exercise for the students to discuss and to offer their opinions on wearable technology’s usefulness.

Ethics and Social Implications from AI

There are also ethical and social implications that are part of AI or robotic technology in our workplaces. Students are asked to choose a business and outline possible ethical issues that could or already have arisen due to artificial intelligence. This is not an easy task. Students are also asked to pick a business and predict the future of AI during the next 10 years.

The course leads to seriously thinking about such benefits to the students themselves. They often challenge the potential usefulness of AI, robotics and machine learning. They also challenge humans making decisions compared to machines making the same decisions.

AI is not only used in the United States; its use is global. Many artificial intelligence applications from Europe and elsewhere are examined, too. Students may discover or question foreign laws, for example, that seem complete and final. They discuss such permanent laws in the U.S. compared to those in other countries.

The legal aspect that many students raise is one side of the coin in machine learning. The other side of that coin is ethics or the ethical behavior of the designers and users of machine learning tools, such as autonomous vehicles or logistics machines in warehouses or in homes.

Artificial intelligence technologies are possibly the most substantive and meaningful change in modern business. For example, the ability to process large amounts of data with varying degrees of structure and form enables large leaps in insight to drive revenue and profits.

Likewise, governments and civil society have significant opportunities to improve our lives and workplaces. However, with the power that AI brings comes the risks of any technological innovation.

The study of artificial intelligence and robotics in a college course offers other issues to consider, such as:

  • Can making decisions at the speed of AI be ethically challenging?
  • What are some pitfalls of managing the human side of AI development?
  • What might be some potential legal implications of using AI to make decisions?
  • What advice do you have for addressing potential ethics issues?
  • Can “potential ethics issues” become “unsolvable?” Give an example of what might be unsolvable and why.
  • Could an AI-controlled automobile be programmed to keep a driver from falling asleep at the wheel and going off the road hitting a tree or worse?

This online course in AI is innovative when it comes to its curriculum. It also tackles advanced technologies that are important for today’s college students to learn.

Dr. Oliver Hedgepeth is a full-time professor in transportation and logistics management for the Wallace E. Boston School of Business. He was program director of three academic programs: Reverse Logistics Management, Transportation and Logistics Management and Government Contracting. He was Chair of the Logistics Department at the University of Alaska Anchorage. Dr. Hedgepeth was the founding Director of the Army’s Artificial Intelligence Center for Logistics from 1985 to 1990, Fort Lee, Virginia.

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