Showcase highlights strides in computing


Daily Mining Gazette

HOUGHTON — A three-day showcase is displaying the ways in which Michigan Technological University is advancing artificial intelligence and incorporating it into its research, along with panels on the technology’s possibilities and pitfalls.

The Showcase AI Event includes technology demonstrations, speakers, panel discussions and displays of student and faculty research. It is put on by Tech’s College of Computing and Tech’s Institute of Computing and Cybersystems.

This is the second year for the showcase, which was founded to demonstrate the role computing plays across disciplines, from mechanical engineering to the social sciences, College of Computing Dean Dennis Livesay said during an opening speech at the Great Lakes Research Center Wednesday night.

More than 75 faculty members across campus are part of the ICC — half from the College of Computing and others from colleges around campus. Research includes data science, human and computer interaction and biocomputing. Tech is also working to create a new center based on AI, Livesay said.

For this year’s showcase, they focused on artificial intelligence, which has become a widely discussed topic with applications such as ChatGPT and autonomous vehicles — including the jetski a few feet to Livesay’s right.

“This space is to do important societal work related to freshwater ecology, freshwater health, etc, but it’s led by a computer scientist, Dr. (Tim) Havens,” Livesay said of the GRLC. “And so that to me is a great metaphor for what’s happening with computing, and why we exist as a college.”

Things kicked off Wednesday afternoon at the Great Lakes Research Center, where Tech students and faculty were on hand for a poster session highlighting their AI-related projects and research across a range of issues.

In one study, AI was used in a mixed-reality system — one real vehicle, one virtual — to and found connected vehicles could potentially reduce energy consumption by more than 40%. In another project, AI helped detect real-time trespassing consistently in railroad yards within 90 seconds.

Havens, also director of the ICC, moderated a discussion Wednesday night on AI’s impact on academia and industry.

Panelists were asked what role they saw AI playing in the upcoming presidential election. Most foresaw a competing mix of devices being used to spread misinformation and others sent out to counteract them.

“We know that it’s only going to get more and more prevalent,” said Vinh Nyugen, assistant professor of mechanical engineering-engineering mechanics at Tech. “And I think that what people can do to prepare is just be aware, know that it’s out there, know that things can happen. Always verify your sources, whatever you see.”

Another question dealt with what level AI would need to be able to perform at to have practical applications. Jon Garibaldi, head of the school of computer science at the University of Nottingham, said the standard shouldn’t be 100% success, but the point at which AI can successfully perform at an expert human level.

For self-driving cars, he used the example of a Formula 1 race car driver. Although they may crash, they can maneuver vehicles at a level well above average humans, he said.

“I think if we have this sort of level that AI has to get to a 100% performance without ever making mistakes before we allow it to be used, I think we’re missing out on utilizing it for good,” he said.

Continuing another tradition that began last year, the College of Computing also held an induction ceremony for its Honor Academy, while the ICC also presented Achievement Awards. Inducted in the Honor Academy this year were Randy Berry, John Furton and Kanwal Rekhi, for whom Tech’s Rekhi Hall was named.

Berry, who graduated in 1982 with a bachelor’s degree in computer science, has spent more than 30 years in the energy industry, where he has worked in design, delivery, and support of operations technology solutions.

After his acceptance speech, Berry presented a globe to computer science professor Linda Ott, a member of last year’s class who had mentored him at Tech.

He said Tech is doing great work and investing in programs that will attract more students.

“Our job at the university is student success, and student success will bring more students,” he said. “I also want to commend the local community here … they’ve done a nice job of preserving the culture of the Houghton/Hancock area while at the same time doing some minor transformations to make it attractive. As an outsider coming here, I’m quite proud to say that I went to school here and lived in the Houghton/Hancock community.”

ICC Achievement Awards went to Briana Bettin, an assistant professor of computer science and cognitive and learning sciences; Susanta Ghosh, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering-engineering mechanics; and Kristi Hauswirth, director of finance and data operations at the College of Computing.

The three-day event continues Friday. Events include casting demonstrations by Waupaca Foundry from 10:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. on the campus lawn and a keynote address at noon by Automation Alley CEO Tom Kelly at the Memorial Union Building Alumni Lounge.

For more information, go to mtu.edu/icc/events/showcase-ai.


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