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Nueva Students Examine the World of Artificial Intelligence
Rachel Freeman, communications/website manager

For the third Upper School Roundtable event of the year, which took place on December 13, Roundtable organizers collaborated with the newly created Artificial Intelligence (AI) Task Force to host a panel discussion on artificial intelligence, automation, and the future of work. Roundtable is a group that aims to organize presentations and discussions about stimulating contemporary topics within the realm of social studies. “We wanted to create a place for intellectually stimulating discourse between students,” sophomore and Roundtable co-organizer Adrienne P. said.

“The Nueva AI Task Force reached out to us after they heard about our first Roundtable on impeachment,” noted sophomore and Roundtable co-organizer Alyssa H., who added that the Roundtable format aligned perfectly with the goals of the AI Task Force “because their mission is to provoke discussion about AI around the Nueva community, and to engage students in dialogues about the social and ethical implications of AI.”

According to organizer Anna I.-M., Roundtable was created this year because many teachers and students “admired the scientific research groups at Nueva, but wished for a group more focused around social studies.” Roundtables provide the audience of students and faculty with an informal, low-pressure intellectual environment. “We really like how students don’t have to be active participants of the conversation if they don’t want to, and they can come with any level of knowledge," Anna added.

The panel featured Nueva community members and—for the first time—industry experts James Cham, venture capitalist for Bloomberg Beta; Cathy Polinsky, chief technology officer of Stitch Fix; Tom Dorrance, Nueva US history teacher; and Jack A., Nueva sophomore and member of the AI Task Force (read more about Jack’s work in AI in Mavericks Making Waves). I-Lab Director Angi Chau served as moderator. 

“We’re in an exciting time in the world of AI,” James said. He shared that discussions among venture capitalists are around the implications of automation and the ethical questions that arise. AI is already in use by many companies, including Amazon, IBM, and Stitch Fix. 

Cathy explained, “We use a blend of humans and machines to do our work. We feel machines make humans better, and humans make machines better.” 

Tom added, “The great advantage of this technology is that it is capable of reducing the mundane, soul-crushing elements of the routinization of work.”

In response to the question, “Some already fear AI systems because of media portrayals of it. How might the loss or replacement of people's jobs due to AI play into this narrative?” Jack noted, “These tools have a different skill set from humans’ skill set. So we shouldn’t see AI as replacing humanity. Rather, we should see it as being complementary to humanity. It fills in the gaps that humans have trouble doing.” 

While the topic of conversation was weighty and serious, there were moments of humor sprinkled throughout. When Cathy said, “We thought it would never be possible for machines to write papers,” Tom replied, “It doesn’t work for history papers!” 

One comment by James resonated with the audience and summed up the importance of AI to an audience of high school students and teachers: “The future of work is going to be defined by the people in this room—not right now but in 20 years.”

The Roundtable panel proved successful. “We were really happy with the AI Roundtable panel,” Anna said. “A lot of students showed up and showed interest, and the speakers each provided a different viewpoint on the future of work that I thought was really valuable. We are excited for the Roundtables to come.” 

Our students are eager to expand their work experience in technology and artificial intelligence. Do you have any internship leads? Please contact Director of Internships Katie Saylor. Learn more about Nueva’s thriving internship program.



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