by Wright Seneres

The 11th Annual New Jersey Big Data Alliance Symposium, hosted by the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers University, brought together experts from industry, government, and academia to explore the theme “AI Impacts on Society & Higher Education.” The May 17 event delved into the transformative effects of artificial intelligence (AI), addressing both opportunities and challenges across various sectors. Key figures in the New Jersey education industry gave welcome remarks, including Brian Bridges, New Jersey’s Secretary of Higher Education; Francine Conway, Chancellor of Rutgers University–New Brunswick; Stuart Shapiro, Dean of the Bloustein School; and Matthew Hale, President of the NJBDA.

Future Trends in Generative AI

A significant focus at the symposium was the future of generative AI. It was highlighted that industries are shifting from reliance on single models to utilizing multiple, task-specific models. This approach enhances the efficiency and effectiveness of AI applications. Additionally, the development of AI agents capable of performing complex tasks autonomously is on the rise. These advancements are expected to revolutionize business processes by improving productivity and operational efficiencies. (This article itself was written with the assistance of ChatGPT-4o.)

Sherry Marcus, Director of Bedrock Science at Amazon Web Services, discussed multi-modality, integrating text, image, and audio data into cohesive models, as a key trend. This capability enables comprehensive data analysis, driving innovation in fields such as healthcare, education, and entertainment. These advancements promise to deliver substantial commercial value, creating new market opportunities and enhancing existing operations.

Sherry Marcus speaking at podium

Sherry Marcus of AWS giving the morning keynote at the NJBDA Symposium. Photo by Wright Seneres

Responsible AI Practices and Transparency

The symposium underscored the importance of responsible AI usage. One major takeaway from the event was the need for transparency in AI systems. Keynote speaker Shiren Vijiasingam, Chief Product Officer at Instructure, advocated for an “AI nutrition facts” label, detailing the base model used, training data, and implications for data privacy and security. This concept, similar to nutritional labels on food, aims to inform users about the AI tools they utilize, promoting trust and accountability.

Shiren Vijiasingam speaking at podium

Shiren Vijiasingam giving the afternoon keynote at the NJBDA Symposium. Photo by Wright Seneres

This initiative aligns with evolving regulatory frameworks in the U.S. and Europe, which focus on ensuring transparency, accountability, and fairness in AI applications. These regulations are designed to prevent misuse and ensure that AI benefits society while safeguarding against potential risks.

AI in Higher Education

AI’s impact on higher education was a central theme at the symposium. Keynote speakers highlighted how AI tools are transforming teaching and learning processes. For example, generative AI can enhance educational outcomes by suggesting improvements to rubrics and integrating native tools with course content, such as creating assignments that apply statistical models. These innovations extend the ecosystem of learning, allowing higher education institutions to benefit from AI advancements without overhauling existing systems.

However, integrating AI into education raises ethical questions, particularly concerning data privacy and algorithmic bias. Ensuring that AI systems are fair and unbiased is crucial to prevent reinforcing existing inequalities. Additionally, the digital divide remains a significant challenge, as not all students have equal access to the necessary technological resources.

Rethinking Assessments and Skills

Another major takeaway was the need to rethink assessments and skill acquisition in the context of AI. The use of AI in creating and responding to assessments challenges traditional methods of evaluating student performance. There is a growing emphasis on project-based work and practical skills, which are harder to grade but more reflective of real-world competencies. AI can facilitate this shift by making it easier to create, analyze, and evaluate complex assessments, thus supporting a more meaningful learning experience.

A celebration of big data and artificial intelligence in New Jersey

A major highlight of the symposium was the inaugural Margaret Brennan-Tonetta Lifetime Achievement Award, given by surprise to past President and founder Peggy Brennan “for exceptional lifetime contributions to big data and artificial intelligence in the State of New Jersey”. 

Group of people on stage with award winner

NJBDA’s Peggy Brennan (third from left) with her lifetime achievement award, flanked by (from left to right) Matt Hale, Francine Conway, Stuart Shapiro, Brian Bridges, and Jim Samuel. Photo by Wright Seneres

The symposium also included panel discussions, research presentations, a student poster session with awards sponsored by VMWare by Broadcom | Carahsoft, and best paper awards given by the editors of the Journal of Big Data and Artificial Intelligence, the flagship journal of the NJBDA.  

For more detailed information about the symposium and its sessions, please visit the NJBDA 2024 Symposium page

This article was written with the assistance of ChatGPT.