Edmonds College’s AI Incubator Lab launching in fall 2023

Dr. Carey Schroyer, Dean of STEM, welcomes attendees to Edmonds College’s first AI for Everybody Day and introduces the first session, “AI in Our Lives, facilitated by Computer Science Faculty and Department Head Allison Obourn. (Photos by Arutyun Sargsyan)

Edmonds College’s STEM department will launch the AI Incubator Lab in fall 2023. The lab will help students get hands-on experience with applying artificial intelligence (AI) in various professions, such as banking, health care, marketing and manufacturing.

“The ability to go back to your job and apply this technology to solve a problem or create value is really at the core of this new technology,” said Dr. Carey Schroyer, who is the dean of the STEM department at Edmonds College. “Edmonds is building the capacity for our students to get these skills. The lab will be utilized by courses and programs within and outside of STEM to support student learning in high-demand technologies that support AI, data analytics and computational analysis, and more.”

The college received a $40,000 grant last year from the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC), Dell and Intel, as well as support from Amazon. Edmonds College is the only college in Washington state to receive this fund, which is part of the Artificial Intelligence Incubator Network Initiative.

An event attendee controls robots built by Edmonds College’s robotics club.

The lab will launch about $70,000 worth of Intel-based platforms, including workstations and open-source AI software tools. “The incubator lab builds on the Intel AI for Workforce program launched in 2020. It will support college courses that include Introduction to Machine Learning, AI for Computer Vision, Natural Language Processing, and AI for Everybody,” said Schroyer. “It supports new and existing programs that provide more than living wages, allowing students to thrive, not merely survive.”

While AI seems to be flooding the news in the past six months, the concept can be traced back to ancient times. For example, Hephaestus, the Greek god of fire and smithing, created Talos — a giant, bronze automaton — to protect Europa in Crete from pirates and those who wanted to kidnap her. Historian Adrienne Mayor from Stanford University said that ancient India and Burma also had myths about artificial intelligence in the form of automatons. Flying chariots and robotic servants and swans appeared in various Indian epics, such as Mahabharata and Ramayana.

19th century Japanese tea-serving automatons (Public domain photo)

British historian Joseph Needham described an account from a 4th century B.C. Chinese text of a “robot” that can sing and move like a real human being. In his book Science and Civilisation in China, Vol. 2,” he recounted how the robot sang in front of the emperor and “flirted” with the ladies in attendance.

The latter made the emperor so angry that he had the robot chopped up into pieces to “see what it really was.”

While AI today is not a world dominated by robots like in the Terminator and The Matrix films, it comes in the form of chatbots (for example, ChatGPT), AI art (Midjourney), virtual assistants (“Hey, Alexa!”) and data algorithms such as search engines). Schroyer thinks that these AI tools can support STEM students as “objects-to-think-with,” which can help develop critical thinking, self-reflection and creativity.

“However, we believe this must be done intentionally, thoughtfully and inclusively, and that is the challenge for education,” she said.

A mini robotic arm with Edmonds College STEM students in the background. It is one of several small robots that were on display at the AI for Everybody event.

Like any new technology, many people are concerned that some people misuse AI. Students could use chatbots to write their essays for them in seconds or plagiarize someone’s work. People can use an artist’s work, prompt it in Midjourney, and claim the artwork as their original work.

“However, the risks extend well beyond the educational sphere into other issues, such as consumer privacy, biased programming, unethical use, social engineering, and unclear legal regulation,” Schroyer said. “We (society) need to acknowledge, understand and discuss the benefits, dangers, myths, etc., of AI. Increasing AI literacy is one way to address those concerns, improve AI awareness and encourage the responsible use of AI within society.”

Currently, Edmonds College is developing several programs that incorporate AI, such as its new bachelor’s of science degrees in

computer science, data analytics, and robotics and artificial intelligence, which are scheduled to launch in the fall of 2024.

“AI already extends across various domains, and it will continue to grow and embed itself in the future,” Schroyer said. “Fostering interdisciplinary learning is critical to developing well-rounded individuals who can harness the power of AI in their respective fields, both within and outside of STEM.”

— By Nick Ng

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