What if students ruled the AI world (build)?

by Jim Mignano

With the uptake of Large Language Models (LLMs) including ChatGPT, artificial intelligence (AI) is quickly becoming an integral part of our daily lives. LLMs are a form of generative AI that mimic human text based on inputs they receive. If generative AI follows the adoption patterns of recent communication technologies (e.g., the Internet, smartphones), how we create, communicate, and learn will change dramatically. And fast. What remains to be seen is how public policy will shape the impact of AI on society, and who will decide the rules that govern AI.

Students and young adults must be engaged in the discussion. As future leaders and professionals, creators and curators, they confront a world that will be profoundly impacted by AI. They understand that unchecked AI could have undesirable results, such as compounding inequities and displacing workers. Having grown up with 21st century communications technologies, young adults are also intimately familiar with their capabilities and conveniences. Their fresh perspective is needed to ensure that AI works for everyone. What if they were to set the rules that govern AI in society?

To begin exploring this question, I recently met with two local education leaders for a rapid world-build.[1] We attempted to place ourselves in students’ shoes, driven by two prompts: “What if?” and “Why not?”

What if?

The first question prompted us to imagine a world where students actively designed the rules governing AI for society. What would that world look like? How would it come to be? To scope our discussion, we chose to focus on the experiences of community college students.

The world that emerged was both practical and equitable. It is a world in which AI contributes to continued human development and learning, helps address problems such as climate change, and supports people’s creative work. It is also a world in which humans get credit for the fruits of their labors, people with diverse abilities can participate fully and equally, and accountability mechanisms are in place to resolve biases AI perpetuates or introduces.

Why not?

The second question prompted us to consider barriers and complications for community college students in designing rules governing AI. One significant barrier is a perceived lack of basic AI literacy. To design effective rules for AI, students will need at least a basic understanding of how AI works. Additionally, lack of representation to date could deter students from fully engaging in setting the rules. Students whose voices and experiences have been overlooked need to be welcomed to the deliberation and supported in engaging. Overcoming these barriers requires collaboration among educational institutions, policymakers, and industry leaders.

World-Building with Students

After having conducted the rapid world-build, the three of us agreed that the exercise would be much more instructive with students. It is their world-build after all. The exercise would also empower students to think critically and troubleshoot together, fostering skills that are not only essential for understanding AI governance but also for personal and professional growth.

Three concrete steps emerge to implement a student-centered AI governance world-build:

  1. Develop a brief presentation covering the fundamentals of AI (e.g., AI defined, how AI works, typical business models, training data basics and biases). Basic AI literacy is crucial for students to participate effectively in AI governance.
  2. Arrange and facilitate a world-build with students. Over the course of 2–3 sessions, students would cover AI fundamentals (from step 1), a guide to world-building, and the what if/why not sequence of prompts. The activity would be suitable for both the high school and community college levels.
  3. Showcase the work of students during a public forum. Presenting the results in a public forum would encourage open deliberation and feedback from a wider range of perspectives. An open format also presents the opportunity to invite professionals who use AI, as well as decisionmakers who are grappling with AI policy, to engage with students.

Envisioning a world where students design the rules that govern AI should inspire hope. These future leaders can shape AI’s role in society for the better. Fostering collaboration and addressing barriers through these simple world-building steps can help.

Jim Mignano

[1] World-building is a small group exercise structured with prompts to envision and explore a hypothetical future (or multiple alternative futures). World-building aims to stimulate creative thinking and encourage participants to consider the implications of hypothesized futures. By systematically and collectively constructing these future worlds, participants can better understand factors that might shape the future, identify potential risks and benefits, and develop strategies to navigate uncertainties.

Share your thoughts