Students with robot
Story Technology

Don’t Be Afraid of Artificial Intelligence

Angie Marcos

Experts across the CSU say there’s plenty to look forward to when it comes to all the things AI can do — and perhaps no one will benefit more than students who study this white-hot field.

Students with robot

Using artificial intelligence, ​robotic Meebie can simulate a child with behavioral or learning challenges, allowing students the opportunity for practical, real-world training before entering the workforce.  Photo courtesy of CSU Channel Islands


If there's one buzz phrase making the rounds these days, it has to be artificial intelligence (AI) — a term that's both futuristic and a little sinister. We may hear it often, but a lot of us would still be hard-pressed to define exactly what AI is.

"Artificial intelligence is the capability of software or a bot to imitate or outperform tasks that typically require human intelligence," explains Srikanth Danapal, technical lead at San Francisco State University.

In the very simplest terms, AI has made machines a lot smarter, especially over the last decade.

And while this technology may bring up feelings of uncertainty and even fear (Will a bot take my job? Could computers become smarter than people?), experts at campuses across the CSU say we don't need to worry.

In fact, for students who want to work in the field, the picture is very rosy. "In the near future, we will see more and more AI capabilities being commoditized and made available for everyone to use," says Danapal. They are already spilling into fields like health care, finance and security.

"The demand for this technology is expanding," adds Amir Dabirian, Ph.D., vice president of information technology and Chief Information Officer at California State University, Fullerton, "and there is a shortage of skilled workers needed to continue advancements in AI.

"By training and exposing students to the AI field, the California State University is providing the state with skilled graduates that will continue to drive innovation in AI." 

Using AI to Boost Student Success

Like so many technological advancements, the likelihood is that AI will become so embedded in our lives, in myriad ways that will emerge for years to come, that we'll stop noticing it. 

"Ten years ago, if someone said to you, 'Hold on, I gotta go charge my book,' you'd think they were crazy," says Kyle Shaver, information technology interim assistant director at California State University, Northridge.

Yet today, juicing up your Kindle or iPad isn't something you'd give a second thought to. Already, talking to Alexa, Cortana or Siri isn't even odd. And any number of other everyday devices are in the works — a phenomenon that's due in large part to artificial intelligence.


San Francisco State student Sophia Maria de la Luz Wenzel demonstrates an artificial intelligence chat bot. Photo courtesy of San Francisco State University 

At the CSU, faculty, staff and students are not only studying how to use AI across industries, but also how to incorporate it into the campuses themselves to increase student engagement and achievement on campus key goals of the CSU's Graduation Initiative 2025.

For example, CSU Fullerton's Division of Information Technology is incorporating artificial intelligence into its academic advising portals to enhance student record systems by automating processes.

The Fullerton campus has also developed "iTuffy," an e-advisor chatbot that's part of the school's app. It uses natural-language processing and machine learning to answer common questions like, how do I file a FAFSA?; how do I enroll in courses?; and where is the Academic Advising Center? Students can get an answer anywhere, anytime.

From making applications and other forms easier to complete to increasing the accessibility of student portals, AI has the potential to improve students' experience at every one of the CSU's 23 campuses, says Shaver.

The Promise of Artificial Intelligence

Earlier this month, CSU Northridge brought students, faculty, staff, alumni and industry experts together for its Artificial Intelligence JAM competition. Student competitors were tasked to solve a problem using artificial intelligence.

Winning projects included Meebie, a robot that can mimic a child with a behavior or learning challenge, preparing future teachers to teach students with these issues, and Deaf-Connect, an AI-based program that gives the deaf community better access to specialized resources like speech-to-text translation. 

​​"The whole purpose of AI is to make our lives easier and to make tasks less time-consuming," Shaver explains. "If it's doing its job correctly, you shouldn't even notice that it's there, that it even exists."

Adds Dr. Dabirian, "Machine learning has been a driving force in recent developments in robots and self-driving cars, but this requires tremendous amounts of data and today's AI systems have a long way to go to replicate humans and their ability to learn."

Confusion about AI lies in how unfamiliar this new field is to most of us, says Michael Berman, Ph.D., CSU Chief Innovation Officer at the Chancellor's Office, in Long Beach. "AI applications are not smart like a human being, but they can perform impressively well at understanding and responding to questions on a particular area, or finding hidden patterns in data.

"Performing thoughtful experiments in the use of artificial intelligence and assessing the results critically is just one way that Cal State campuses are innovating with cutting-edge technology."

6 Kinds of AI You're Already Using

  • Virtual personal assistants (Siri, Cortana, Alexa)

  • Video games 

  • Ride-sharing apps (Uber, Lyft) 

  • Google Maps' traffic predictions

  • Spam filter on your email 

  • Mobile check deposits