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It poses a risk agreed University of Maryland University College cybersecurity faculty members Emma Garrison-Alexander, Tamie Santiago and Candice Smith, who explored the influence of AI bias on society in a Facebook Live panel discussion Feb. 13.

“Often times we tell ourselves that by using [AI] technology we are freeing up our mind to use on other projects,” said Smith, associate professor in the UMUC graduate cybersecurity technology program. But over time in the process, she suggested we sacrifice cognitive functioning.

“We let AI do all these executive functions for us. It almost allows us to dumb ourselves down and not take responsibility for our own learning and mental capacity,” Smith said.

We require strong executive functions to effectively achieve our goals. Working memory, flexible thinking, and self-constraint, among other high-level functions, help us to organize and plan, initiate and stay focused on tasks, assess situations and revise strategies when circumstances change.

Today, smartphones and other devices often function less as useful tools, and more as personal assistants—or even appendages, panel members said. Our phones are the keepers of our most valuable data. They manage our time and resources. They direct many aspects of our daily lives.

Our phones are not just for communication anymore, said Santiago, UMUC collegiate associate professor of cybersecurity policy. “The phone has become our attachment to the world.”  But she warned that “the enemy of our executive function is convenience,” and wondered, “How much of our executive function are we willing to let go of to get it?”

Garrison-Alexander, vice dean of the UMUC graduate cybersecurity program, said we make assumptions about AI technology—that the information it feeds us is true and accurate. So, over time, an unintended consequence of our reliance on technology may be that we come to doubt our own memory and thought processes, she said. For instance, do you ever find yourself asking Siri or Alexa to provide information that you already know . . . but just want to double-check to make sure?

Panelists also discussed machine learning bias, which occurs when an algorithm produces results that are systematically prejudiced. To best understand its potential influence across the sociopolitical fabric of our society, including its effects on racial partiality in hiring, policing, judicial sentencing and healthcare, it’s important to understand AI bias in context, Santiago said.

By 2020, the AI market is expected to explode by $47 billion with the international Big Data analysis industry at $203 billion, and the majority of that AI development is being conducted by a handful of techno giants—Twitter, IBM, Amazon, Google, Facebook, Microsoft and Apple, Santiago said.

There are more than seven billion people worldwide, yet only 10,000 people in seven countries are writing all the code, she added. “So, we pause in that because we have to think of AI from that perspective.  The pathway of AI algorithms is being compromised because of the limited [number of] hands involved in creating them.”

Watch the panel discussion on AI Bias, posted on the UMUC Facebook page.


Emma Garrison-Alexander, vice dean of the graduate cybersecurity program

Prior to joining UMUC, Garrison-Alexander served as the assistant administrator for Information Technology (IT) and chief information officer (CIO) for the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) under the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). There, she led TSA’s IT organization with an annual budget responsibility of $400 million. Before joining TSA, Garrison-Alexander served for 25 years with the National Security Agency. She holds a Bachelor of Science in electrical engineering, a Master of Science in telecommunications management and a doctorate in technology and information systems.

Tamie Santiago, collegiate associate professor of cybersecurity policy

Santiago spent more than 34 years in leadership positions with the Department of Defense, the White House and in the private sector where she managed large complex organizations and systems. She has a wide-ranging background in cybersecurity, critical infrastructure, intelligence, information assurance, information technology management, strategic planning, research and analysis, fiscal management and oversight. Santiago also is the founder and president of Destiny’s Promise, a 501©3 organization aimed at helping young women and girls develop into effective leaders.

Candice Smith, associate professor of the graduate cybersecurity technology program

In addition to teaching at UMUC, Smith is chief knowledge officer with Technasium Foundation, Inc., a non-profit organization focused on STEM education. She also is the co-founder of IT Kidz USA and an active speaker at conferences and community events. Smith has served as a data analyst with the Nielsen Company and a program director with Charles County Meals on Wheels. After earning her doctorate, Smith completed a cybersecurity fellowship in the cybersecurity and information assurance department at UMUC.