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The impact on AI on Boston and beyond

Artificial intelligence is reshaping technology and society at large. How does this play out in Massachusetts?

It wasn’t long ago that artificial intelligence as we know it today was considered science fiction. After all, Chat GPT launched on November 20, 2022 and generative AI, as in AI that creates original content that isn’t directly copied from existing data, became part of our daily lives. 

Generative AI (gen AI) represents a groundbreaking advancement in technology, harnessing the power of machine learning to analyze vast datasets and generate new content based on learned information. It’s perhaps the biggest tech advancement since the smartphone and it’s capturing users at a much swifter rate.

Already, it shapes the way we interact with technology and each other: from grocery shopping and to-do lists, to travel itineraries, medical imaging, and recommendations on streaming platforms. 

This rapid pace has resulted in major innovation, but also, growing pains, including unethical usages that we’re all too familiar with, like scam calls from voices that sound exactly like family members, or even “deepfake” photos that appear shockingly real. 

There’s also a sentiment rippling through workplaces from corporate offices to manufacturing plants: Could AI take my job?

On the contrary, AI champions believe that with a responsible approach and proper education, Boston can become a hub for AI innovation, i.e., creating jobs. In doing so, the city can help increase productivity and solve complex problems across industries, from transportation to health care. 

“I think the future, and my experience so far, is going to be a combination of humans and [AI] working together in new ways to produce things that are beyond what either would create without the other. And it’s not without precedent. That’s kind of what we’ve done with computers, with the internet, with airplanes… And as long as we’re aware of the risks, there’s a lot of opportunity to embrace them and to benefit from the tools,” says Santiago Garces, chief information officer for the City of Boston.

The main takeaway: It won’t replace humans, but help us.


Reclaiming the AI mantle 

“AI holds immense potential to unlock economic opportunities and foster innovation in Massachusetts and Boston,” says Garces. In order to do so, we must put people at the center of it, he says. This means not only considering the technological advancements but also ensuring that all individuals have the opportunity to contribute to and benefit from AI-driven progress.

Headshot of a man with short, dark hair wearing a black suit and red tie and standing outside in a city.

“AI holds immense potential to unlock economic opportunities and foster innovation in Massachusetts and Boston.” — Santiago Garces

Boston, with its concentration of prestigious universities, thriving life sciences, and pharma industry, has the potential to stand at the forefront of AI innovation — and at one time it did, before it slipped away to Silicon Valley, according to Usama Fayyad, executive director at Northeastern University’s Institute for Experiential AI.

Collaborative efforts between academia, industry, and government, such as the commonwealth’s AI Task Force, aim to harness Boston’s potential as a leader in AI. This initiative seeks to study and develop strategies for economic growth and innovation now. 

In that vein, the city just recently released the first public application of gen AI on They have used docket information to generate titles for the past 16 years of City Council roll call votes. “Though still experimental, we hope the summary titles located in the section below will help people quickly review and understand key historical votes by the Boston City Council,” reads the page. 

Solving for AI’s shortcomings

Despite its transformative potential, AI also raises ethical concerns such as labor displacement, access equity, and algorithmic bias. 

Garces stresses that proactively addressing these concerns through inclusive policies and practices isn’t just the equitable thing to do. It has economic advantages as well. 

“We will be intentional about making sure that these tools are also shared a bit more broadly, and with people that haven’t always participated in the creation of technology and benefited from the wealth that comes with it,” he says. For example, the city considers labor unions important mechanisms to mitigate impacts of AI.

One significant advantage of AI technology is its ability to bridge language barriers and democratize access to various skills and tools.

“Some of these tools are being trained in different languages. It gives access to a more diverse audience to be able to start doing things that typically require some proficiency in English, or even if you’re building computer code, to be familiar with some computing language,” Garces says.

Access is an important piece of the equation and one that’s being watched by leaders in the space, including the Responsible AI Institute: a nonprofit dedicated to promoting the responsible development and deployment of AI technologies through research, education, and collaboration initiatives in Boston and beyond.

“I am concerned about the global and organizational dynamics of AI, where the benefits might be concentrated among a few, and the ability to harness the value is not equitably distributed,” says Alyssa Lefaivre Škopac, Head of Global Partnerships and Growth at the Responsible AI Institute. She points out that advanced AI features often come with high price tags, limiting access to those who can afford them.


Bridging human insight and AI innovation

One way organizations can integrate AI effectively and responsibly is by finding avenues to collaborate and share knowledge.

Lefaivre Škopac emphasizes the importance of establishing alignment across industries, groups, and functions with stakes in AI technology. A core function of the Responsible AI Institute is to convene various AI stakeholders (policymakers, civil society representatives, researchers, and practitioners) to discuss themes like the future of work and sustainability. This positive feedback loop between practitioners and policymakers helps refine responsible AI practices.

In addition to bringing disparate parties together, the institute also provides member organizations with templates for policies, ongoing programming on issues like deepfakes and AI governance processes, and assessments to evaluate organizational or use case-level responsibility.

“I am optimistic that AI will bring significant benefits to society, but it must be thoughtfully designed, deployed, and governed. We’ve seen its incredible potential in areas like health diagnosis, but we’ve also encountered situations where it can go terribly wrong,” Lefaivre Škopac says. “Despite the anxiety and fear, we do have the ability and agency to ensure AI serves us and we have a workforce ready to take on the future. However, this requires substantial effort, coordination, and cooperation amidst rapid advancements and complexity.”

“I am optimistic that AI will bring significant benefits to society, but it must be thoughtfully designed, deployed, and governed.” — Alyssa Lefaivre Škopac

Headshot of a woman with long brown hair wearing glasses and a blue blazer.

Lefaivre Škopac stresses the need for upskilling and inclusion of the workforce in AI initiatives, noting that mature organizations view AI as a workforce multiplier rather than a cost-cutting measure – meaning it could create jobs, rather than take them away.

AI skills are becoming essential

Central to the responsible deployment of AI is proper education and training. Fayyad underscores the importance of experiential learning, where students engage in real-world projects to gain hands-on experience in AI application. 

“Our program at Northeastern equips students with the skills needed to leverage AI’s transformative potential in various sectors.” Fayyad says. “Through real-world projects and case studies, students gain hands-on experience applying AI to solve complex problems.”

Though these programs are aimed at students, employees already in the workforce should be gearing up to use the technology, too. Fayyad expresses that corporations and organizations should be equipping their employees with tools and training so they don’t get left behind. 

“That’s why it’s important for workers to figure out, this is not a threat, this is a tool. If I figure out how to use the tool, it increases my market value. It leverages my skills,” Fayyad says, comparing it to using the internet or a smartphone. In most cases, you wouldn’t hire an employee today who isn’t fluent in those technologies.

Skilled individuals can use AI knowledge to enhance their productivity and market value, while those lacking in skills may find themselves at a disadvantage in an increasingly tech-driven world, Fayyad says.

So what’s the best way to protect yourself from the downsides of AI and turn the tech into an upside? “Use it,” Fayyad says. He encourages people to pull up Chat GPT and play around with it. “It’s the best way to gain an understanding of it.”

Garces echoes “Try to compare things that you would do normally without AI. [Like] drafting an email, writing a poem, maybe. Then try these things with AI. You start learning when it can be helpful, and when it’s not very good.”


AI’s future in the region

AI holds immense promise for Boston and New England. Certainly the high concentration of bright minds focused on leveraging the technology and educating the upcoming generations are primed to tackle the challenges ahead. 

But what’s more, our leadership as an AI hub can also help set standards for how the market overall addresses AI ethics and deploys the technology responsibly. 

Initiatives that foster collaboration among policymakers, industry leaders, and community stakeholders will be crucial. Such efforts ensure that AI technologies are developed with diverse perspectives in mind, addressing the needs and concerns of all segments of society.

“By embracing AI responsibly and collaboratively, we can harness its potential to drive positive change and enhance the quality of life for all,” Garces says.

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