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When ChatGPT, a sophisticated chatbot that uses AI, first appeared in the news cycle, everyone from educators to journalists were worried. Educators were worried that students would plagiarize essays. Journalists feared it would replace them. But assistant professor of Design and Data Analytics Nabeel Gillani found that his students had a much more nuanced take.  

Many [students were] excited about its potential to help reduce the burden of mundane tasks… one student cautiously reflected that we are yet to fully grasp and understand the implications,” he explained. 

Gillani shares his students’ cautious optimism concerning AI. He and his colleagues at Plural Connections Group have used AI to design a rezoning algorithm that would redraw school zoning maps within districts to create more diverse schools. Importantly, these new zoning maps wouldn’t asking parents, guardians, and children to make large sacrifices, such as longer commutes. In a recent op-ed in WIRED, Gillani highlighted the promise of AI programs like this to make education more equitable.  

However, he notes, effective changes don’t begin and end with AI. He considers it just one tool in his toolkit. You don’t want to just take the boundaries an AI is suggesting and implement those and that’s the end of the day,” he explained on The Takeaway. “You really want to create pathways for community members, and particularly, those parents and community members that might not regularly participate in the feedback process to be able to opine on and shape how the AI is making these decisions, and have the AI really take seriously and into account what they’re saying.” 

In addition to his work as assistant professor of Design and Data Analytics, Gillani has also been recently selected as a non-resident fellow for the Center for Democracy and Technology, where he will continue exploring how technology can help promote democratic values.