A.I.'s Role in Our Future

Interview with Dr. Knudson, the new chair of the Mathematics, Statistics, and Computer Science Department.

Alexei Druzhinin \ TASS via Getty Images
Putin shaking hands with a completely autonomous android

Considering the global nature in the advancement of Artificial Intelligence, which ranges from global trade, to the marketing team at Apple, and even exists in Russian President Vladimir Putin’s future military plans, I sat down and interviewed Andover’s own, Dr. Knudson:


Q: What is Artificial Intelligence?

A: I think of artificial intelligence as computers doing tasks that we typically think of as human - so learning and complex problem solving. Have you ever heard the joke that A.I. is whatever we have not been able to do yet? I think it is really interesting because we are constantly moving the bar for what A.I. is. Nowadays, we do not think of self-driving cars really as A.I, but only a while ago it was purely AI. We are shrinking the AI bar down to do something that looks uniquely human.


Q: What industries are using AI today?

A: So many. Ones that are worth thinking about are different retailers and marketers who use A.I.. It is something we need to grapple with as society because we are interacting with A.I in so many ways we might not even notice. A.I. is also driving really cool advances in science and discoveries that weren’t possible before, like understanding the brain. 


Q: At Andover, do you encourage or teach some form of AI in any shape or form?

A: Computer science! Absolutely any student can take it, and we have a number of one term electives in addition to A.P. computer science. We touch on algorithms and teaching the computer to do problem solving and tasks that get so complex that you can start to think of it as artificial intelligence. 

Any students can take computer science courses, we have a number of one term electives in addition to a year long A.P. computer science. I am also now advising an independent project on computational neuroscience, which is not artificial intelligence, but is a field that has a long relationship with it, in terms of people trying to use A.I. in trying to understand the brain and also use the brain as inspiration.


Q: In regards to recent major advances in the new technology, do you think A.I.’s IQ will ever surpass the IQ of us humans?

A: Well I do not know how you exactly define IQ, but in some sense, it has. There are so many things that computers are already way better than us at doing. I think we need to think really hard about what guidelines we want to set and what matters to us as humans, because right now we get to pick the tasks which is in our realm of control. We get to assign meaning and that’s very human. We need to think about how we do that.


Q: Russian President Vladimir Putin recently said that the leading country in Artificial Intelligence will rule the world. Do you believe that artificial intelligence can change or elevate world powers?

A: Yes, absolutely. I think artificial intelligence is already used in military context. Not that there isn’t nuance there, but I think that’s an important part of the picture in thinking about the future of A.I. is acknowledging that it plays a role in the global power balance as well as in our daily lives.


Q: Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg recently had an argument over AI, the former discouraged the risky AI, while the latter praised the new, game changing technology. In your opinion, is AI good or bad? And do you think that we as a human species will ever have to limit it?

A: A bit of both absolutely. I’m a pure mathematician so my background is to think advances in understanding are relatively morally neutral and what you do with them matters a lot. Understanding how to create A.I. is sort of an intellectual issue. But how you implement it and distribute it and what tasks you choose to apply it to can either be very good or very bad for people.


As Dr. Knudson noted, A.I. technology is continuing to progress at an impressive rate. From an economic perspective, the companies that can best deploy A.I. will be able to be more globally competitive. As these technologies continue to improve, they very well might be used for more destructive purposes by world leaders.  In the context of global education, stem curricula is more prominent in countries such as Russia and India, then in the United States. Andover is unique for an American school, as we have an advanced stem curricula, led by educators like Dr. Knudson.