Good Systems would like to thank Dr. Sharon Strover (School of Journalism and Media) for her leadership as chair of the Good Systems Executive Team in 2022-23. Strover will continue to serve on the Executive Team. The grand challenge now welcomes Prof. Sherri Greenberg (LBJ School of Public Affairs and Steve Hicks School of Social Work) as chair for 2023-24.
Read letters from Strover and Greenberg as they reflect on the last year and look ahead.
From our outgoing chair, Sharon Strover
My role as chair of Good Systems over this past year was challenging and fun, not always at the same time. We are more deeply into our six, multi-year research projects, and our Good Systems research community continues to grow. Now that our core projects have been underway for a while, we are beginning to be able to share results – there is more to say and more to get excited about. Further, during this past year Open AI launched ChatGPT, and although large language models had been something we talked about sporadically over the last couple of years, this arrival of a freely available tool seems to have taken the world by storm. It meant a lot more visibility for some of our work and some of the questions that we are addressing since more people recognize artificial intelligence is here and that it promises to be widely diffused and applied in ways that are difficult to predict.
Some of the internal work that we did is less visible. For example, the Good Systems Executive Team spent the first six months of our monthly meetings hearing from each other about our latest research. This was in many cases the first time we got a direct picture from lead researchers on their progress, their continuing questions, and the issues that remain puzzling or exciting. I think this knit us together in new ways and built on our shared journey into some new territories.
Several of us travelled together to conferences or meetings and shared ideas about how to develop our research. For example, we have a collaboration with AI researchers in the UK that grew into an early career development, multi-day workshop in the Washington D.C. area in December 2022; several junior faculty and some post-docs attended that workshop, and UT faculty worked with UK colleagues to mentor and critique the research proposals growing out of that endeavor. More recently, that same UK effort, called the Trustworthy Autonomous Systems Hub, sponsored a conference in Edinburgh that many of us attended where we shared our work and thoughts (my keynote there addressed “Charting a Path toward Ethical AI”). Good Systems researchers also collaborated on research proposals, including the successful NSF-funded Growing Convergence Research award of over $3 million to explore robots in social environments, and members of our group initiated focused conferences around their own themes (such as Disinformation Day, which convened people from around the globe). At the end of the spring semester, we worked together with the non-profit corporation MITRE, sponsor of a $1 million gift to Good Systems, to develop new proposals and figure out ways our research interests might be linked.
Growing public awareness of AI developments fed into several more outward-facing actions from us. Our Speaker Series roundtable event “Imagining Infinite Futures: AI in Art and Design” led to a collaboration with the Visual Arts Center on their new exhibition A Well-Trained Eye, which includes work from artists exploring surveillance, classification, and modes of thinking with respect to AI. Many of us planned, launched, or participated in educational efforts such as the new online M.S. degree in AI and the Essentials of AI for Life and Society Fall 2023 course open to all UT Austin students, faculty, and staff. Speaking requests have become routine for Good Systems researchers as we share our own work – especially with the City of Austin, with which UT has a research agreement – and also try to provide insights into the trajectories of AI developments and the policies under consideration around the world. I am especially pleased that my tenure as chair is closing with our commitment to examine some of the unifying themes that link our research projects as well as with the launch of a podcast series built loosely around our AI research emphases.
From our incoming chair, Sherri Greenberg:
The technological world is changing ever more rapidly. Industrial revolutions have caused upheavals with good and bad repercussions throughout the ages. In 2016, Klaus Schwab, Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum, coined the term “Fourth Industrial Revolution,” referring to accelerating technological advancements, including artificial intelligence, and how they will change human society and economics. Since November 22, with the release of ChatGPT and other generative AI products, AI is a daily conversation topic. Good Systems, a UT Grand Challenge, has the goal of leveraging the benefits of the changing AI landscape and ensuring ethical applications, while mitigating harmful ones.
As I begin my term as chair of Good Systems, I am delighted to see the tremendous progress of our interdisciplinary research teams on projects with implications for cities, disinformation, equity, future of work, humans and robots, and surveillance. Additionally, Good Systems researchers will be working on exploring cross-cutting themes around our research projects this year to further enhance collaboration. We have involved more faculty and students in Good Systems, and I am eager to have broader reach across the UT Austin campus this year. Good Systems also looks to engage more broadly in education from K-12 to the workforce. Furthermore, I am particularly excited that Good Systems is initiating a collaboration with several other major U.S. research universities this fall.
I look forward to continuing the international collaborations that Good Systems has accomplished and continuing our projects with the City of Austin. Also, I look forward to Good Systems having more interactions with the State of Texas and the federal government. Good Systems, together with our collaborators, will engage more broadly with policymakers and in additional discussions and research regarding AI.
I am thankful for the excellent work of all of those involved in Good Systems including faculty, staff, students, and the prior chairs. No doubt we will continue to see AI transformations this year, and we will continue to strive for ethical AI.