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Synergy of Minds: Uniting Universities, Government, and Industry to Shape the Future of AI

By Jennifer Monahan

In the burgeoning era of artificial intelligence (AI), partnership among academia, government, and the tech industry is emerging as a template for responsible innovation and implementation. How can such an alliance best harness AI’s potential?

Navigating the AI Landscape: Unique Roles

Universities have long been the bedrock of theoretical exploration and discovery. They are the birthplace of AI, where algorithms leapt from chalk-dusted blackboards into the digital realm. Unfettered curiosity drives research, and the pursuit of knowledge transcends profit margins. The academic world offers a unique vantage point, one that prioritizes the long-term implications of AI and its ethical dimensions.

Government can serve as a regulator, a facilitator, and at times a catalyst for innovation. By establishing clear guidelines, governments can foster an environment where AI is deployed safely and ethically. They hold the key to ensuring that AI serves the common good, protects privacy, and promotes equity.

Companies like OpenAI, DeepMind, and Google provide a proving ground where AI meets reality. They’re where abstract concepts transform into tangible solutions that revolutionize how we live and work. The private sector’s agility and resources enable rapid prototyping and scaling, turning the gears of progress. Yet, the industry’s focus on practicality and profitability can overshadow broader societal concerns.

Convergence: A Symphony of Collective Expertise

When these three elements converge, they create a robust ecosystem for AI. Universities contribute cutting-edge research and a pipeline of talent; governments provide oversight and public interest mandates; and industry delivers practical applications and innovation at scale. This synergy is not just beneficial but necessary. The complexity of AI—with its data privacy concerns, ethical quandaries, and transformative potential—demands a collaborative approach.

Case Studies: When Synergy Succeeds

A recent capstone project conducted by graduate students at Heinz College of Information Systems and Public Policy showcases the possibility of progress when innovative students partner with a not-for-profit organization like the Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC). Designed to improve on the website, the students built a tool that utilizes ChatGPT’s large language model (LLM) technology to do more effective search and analysis.

Their goal was to improve the search function to help (for example) a legislative analyst to research relevant congressional documents.
Let’s say there’s a defense authorization bill, and it’s very long. The analyst might use the tool to ask, ‘Is there anything in this bill that supports shifting arms to Ukraine?’ and the tool can pull that information, scan the results, provide an answer, and link the answer to the source content in the bill. Jack Vandeleuv (MSPPM-DA '24)
“Let’s say there’s a defense authorization bill, and it’s very long,” explained Jack Vandeleuv (MSPPM-DA ’24). “The analyst might use the tool to ask, ‘Is there anything in this bill that supports shifting arms to Ukraine?’ and the tool can pull that information, scan the results, provide an answer, and link the answer to the source content in the bill.”

The students built on the work of a previous capstone project from the spring of 2023; the initial team of students conducted user research interviews, identified use cases, and developed a desktop application that would summarize a bill.

In the fall of 2023, the most recent team - Li-li Chen (MISM ’23), Kathy Chiang (MISM ’23), Zhichen Li (MISM-BIDA ’23), Vandeleuv, and Sylvia (syn) Zhang (MISM ’23) - picked up where the first group left off. Led by faculty expert Andrew Garin, assistant professor of economics at Heinz College, they partnered with Tom Romanoff, director of the technology program at BPC, to create an AI tool that can search and analyze thousands of pages of congressional bills to help policy analysts conduct research.

The tool can filter, analyze, and summarize content using the past ten years of bills currently in the Library of Congress’s database. It’s currently being piloted by a few users within BPC, Romanoff said, and news of its capability has started to create a buzz among his colleagues both inside and outside of BPC.

“People from several offices and committees are asking if they can get access,” Romanoff said. He wants to build the AI tool out responsibly. Consequently, he has been doing beta testing with small groups of staffers and soliciting feedback. Similar to other generative AI tools, the app has issues with hallucination. That issue can be addressed through a necessary evaluation stage – by paid tech specialists or even a future capstone team – but it’s one of the reasons Romanoff has not yet released the tool broadly.
We can all see the promise of generative AI technology, but we have to be realistic about its capacity. Tom Romanoff, Bipartisan Policy Center
“We can all see the promise of generative AI technology, but we have to be realistic about its capacity,” Romanoff said. Before the app were to become more widely available, he expects to provide education about how it can be useful and exactly what its shortcomings are – for example, that it should not be used as a definitive source for decision making, and to explain about hallucinations and the need for fact-checking.

Similarly, one of Vandeleuv’s takeaways from the experience is an appreciation for the potential of generative AI applications.

“You start to see a future where the average person on the street is better able to understand what Congress is doing because there’s a tool that can synthesize and explain complex topics that might be in a thousand-page bill,” Vandeleuv said. “We’re not there yet, but it’s exciting to see things trend in that direction.”

Case Studies: AI 101

Another example of successful collaboration among a non-profit, academia, and industry is BPC’s AI 101 Education Initiative. BPC developed the curriculum in partnership with Carnegie Mellon University and other academic institutions. Google is the lead financial sponsor.

Launched in March 2024, the initiative is an AI literacy campaign designed to demystify the technology for policymakers. Having informed policymakers is pivotal, Romanoff said.

“AI 101 is not aimed at any political outcomes, and it’s not partisan – it’s universal,” Romanoff explained. “People are alarmed about AI and its potential impact on jobs and on our society. We’re bringing in experts to explain exactly what AI can and cannot do.”

The partnership combines BPC’s policy expertise with CMU’s educational and research capacity and Google’s ability to create resources and a platform for delivering the program. That collaboration is key to creating trust among stakeholders and credibility for the initiative.

The workshops will be shared with federal public servants initially, and eventually with legislators at the state level.

“AI 101 is a good example of how tech, government, and universities can work together,” Romanoff said. “We need to all be speaking the same language when we talk about AI, and those conversations need to happen today, because the technology is advancing so quickly.”

Challenges and Considerations

These partnerships are not without challenges. The differing objectives of each pillar can lead to friction. Universities may fear the commercialization of research. Governments may struggle with the pace of technological change. Industry may resist regulations that impede innovation. Navigating these tensions requires open dialogue, mutual respect, and a shared vision for AI’s role in society.

The Path Forward: Principles for Partnership

To maximize the benefits of these partnerships, several principles must guide the way:

  • Transparency: Openness in collaborations ensures that the fruits of research are shared, and ethical standards are upheld.

  • Equity: Access to AI’s benefits must be distributed fairly, avoiding the creation of a "data elite."

  • Interdisciplinary Dialogue: Combining expertise from various fields can address the multifaceted challenges AI presents.

  • Long-term Vision: Partnerships should look beyond immediate gains to consider AI’s future impact on humanity.

Conclusion: A Call to Collaborative Action

As AI continues to reshape our world, the imperative for strong partnerships among universities, government, and industry has never been greater. Together, they can steer AI towards a future that reflects our shared values and aspirations. It is through this collaborative spirit that AI will not only reach its full potential but do so in a way that enhances the human experience, ensuring that technology serves us all, not just a privileged few.

Find out more about the graduate programs and hands-on student work experience mentioned above.