Is AI an Opportunity or a Threat?


The Council of Europe defines artificial intelligence (AI) as “a young discipline of sixty years,” and one which “aims to imitate the cognitive abilities of a human being.” Initially developed in the wake of World War Two, the subsequent technological developments of computers, microprocessors, and algorithms have further advanced AI. Most recently, beginning in the 2010s, “massive volumes of data” and high-efficiency computers have enabled a paradigm shift: the new approach has become inductive, allowing computers to distinguish and classify, on the basis of a massive amount of data.

From finance and healthcare to national security and criminal justice, AI has already resulted in “profound” applications in an array of public and private sectors, improving efficiency and effectiveness beyond what humans could accomplish alone (Brookings Institution). However, in the years to come, several key policy, regulatory, and ethical issues will increasingly manifest. These issues include data access and transparency, biases in algorithms, and legal liabilities. Accordingly, business leaders, elected officials, and the public at large are currently discussing the path forward with regard to AI, and with regard to its opportunities and perceived threats. Such considerations include the development of local, state, and federal advisory roles and responsibilities and the promotion of human guidance and cybersecurity.

As Congress and the nation evaluate the future of AI, it is time for your students to consider the same issue. This deliberation includes twelve video clips, two articles, and several educational activities to guide students through a review of the history of AI, the different types of AI technologies, the benefits and drawbacks of these technologies, and the varied perspectives regarding the opportunities and threats that AI presents now and for the future. After a careful review of multiple perspectives, students will determine whether AI is primarily an opportunity or a threat and be presented with several optional extensions to take an active role in the debate.

Objectives and Outcomes

  • Students will be able to describe key vocabulary terms and concepts associated with the debate surrounding the use and future of artificial intelligence.

  • Students will be able to identify and explain aspects of the debate over artificial intelligence, including those related to the positive uses and perceived threats of the current and emerging technologies.

  • Students will be able to evaluate arguments related to the issue and formulate an opinion on this question.