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UF at Work Highlights AI at CJC

This story originally appeared in the Feb. 18 edition of the UF at Work newsletter. For more on CJC’s AI activity, visit:

The College of Journalism and Communications is a leader in preparing the next generation of communication professionals and scholars. The strength of its programs, faculty, students and alumni throughout its history has earned the college ongoing recognition as one of the best journalism and communication programs in the United States.

As part of the University of Florida’s Artificial Intelligence (AI) Initiative, the College of Journalism and Communications is hiring faculty with an AI background. To learn more about the college’s work in the AI field, we interviewed Randy Bennett, executive director of external relations at the college.

How has the emergence of artificial intelligence advanced research in your college?

The College of Journalism and Communications has historically been on the forefront in the exploration on emerging technology and communication, from the advent of electronic media to the explosion of social media. The college has a strong foundation of AI work, particularly around identification and elimination of misinformation, trust in AI, equitable AI and human-machine communication. For example, Telecommunication Associate Professor Jasmine McNealy, who was named one of the “100 Brilliant Women in AI Ethics,” received a prestigious Google Award for Inclusion Research for her project exploring community-based mechanisms to combat algorithmic bias. Journalism Assistant Professor Frank Waddell is exploring trust in AI-enabled automated news story creation.

How do you see your curriculum evolving as you expand AI research and opportunities within the college?
Just as data analysis has become pervasive in all our disciplines, AI will become embedded in the fields of advertising, journalism and public relations. We have already incorporated the study of AI into our curriculum, including our media management, brand management and audience analytics courses. We are also in the process of introducing new AI-related courses, including “AI and the Media” to help students spot false claims and exaggerations about AI, and a graduate-level human-machine communication course, which will cover topics such as ubiquitous computing, persuasive computing, user interfaces, and human-computer interaction.

Your college is currently hiring faculty with an AI background. How do you envision these faculty will help advance the field of journalism and communications through artificial intelligence?
We will be hiring two faculty as part of UF’s initial allotment of new scholars to support its AI initiative. Both new hires, one an assistant professor and one an associate professor, will be working with the Consortium on Trust in Media and Communication, to explore how AI can be used to identify and combat the spread of misinformation and restore trust in news and other media. The declining trust in media is undermining the foundation of our democracy. We believe that understanding how AI can be used to both foster the spread of truthful information and stem the flow of misinformation, will have a significant impact on our society.

What steps are you taking to build a cohort of AI researchers that represents our diverse society?
Our current cohort of scholars focused on AI includes faculty representing a range of races, cultures and nationalities. AI opportunities and impact are not evenly distributed across communities. It reflects the cultural and political perspective of its creators, which currently are predominantly white and male. We believe it is critical to have a diverse set of scholars bringing diverse perspectives to the study and implementation of AI technology. This will be reflected in our recruiting process for new faculty, research proposals received and collaboration outreach.

What opportunities does AI present to your college for collaboration across disciplines, colleges or units?
Communication is integral to all disciplines, so the opportunities for collaboration are immense. For example, CJC’s STEM Translational Communication Center is collaborating with the College of Medicine, the Wertheim College of Engineering as well as colleagues outside of UF on Meet Alex, a virtual human assistant designed to help increase colorectal cancer screening, particularly among rural communities and communities of color. The Consortium on Trust in Media and Technology includes 12 Trust Scholars from disciplines ranging from psychology to architecture, collaborating on research such as the impact of AI-driven predictive policing.

How does the culture of your college foster an environment where new faculty members can excel in AI?
The CJC culture encourages empathy, respect, collegiality, collaboration and risk-taking. We help foster new ideas and new paths. We are continually communicating research and teaching developments and achievements internally and externally, to both ensure shared knowledge and to raise the visibility of our faculty and staff internationally. Our Dean Designate Hub Brown, who begins on July 1, currently serves as associate dean for research, creativity, international initiatives and diversity at the Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University. We are looking forward to the experience, perspective and vision that Dean Brown will bring to the College to both enhance our culture and take us to even greater heights.

Posted: February 18, 2021
Category: AI at CJC News, Digest Only
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