What is Human-Centered AI (HCAI)?

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Human-centered AI (HCAI) aims to design and create AI tools and technologies for human values and ethics, and to integrate automation while keeping user in control. It’s a concept that has been growing with the general awareness of AI, especially since the release of chatGPT. 

The concept of human-centeredness is nothing new though. It has always been important in fields such as user experience design (UX), where the user is at the center. Similarly, human-centered AI practices place the user in the center when designing specifically AI-based technologies.

HCAI as a perspective is important because historically, machine learning communities have not emphasized the risks, biases, and ethical questions. The HCAI movement wants to bring these questions to the forefront, particularly since the use and implementation of ML & AI techniques are growing at such a fast pace.

The term Human-Centered AI in use

One of the most famous proponents for HCAI is Professor Ben Schneiderman, with his introduction book to the topic named “Human-Centered AI”. It’s been a highly influential book, spreading the concept of HCAI to a wider public. If you’re interested in the subject, I highly recommend it.

Similarly, Stanford University launched a new HCAI institute in 2019 committed to “studying, guiding and developing human-centered AI technologies and applications”, further cementing the term. My current master’s education at the University of Gothenburg also shares the name “Human-Centered AI” and had its first batch of students this year (2023). I would guess that it’s a concept and linguistic term that will grow.

Competition to win the AI race

My interest in AI began as a freelancing technology journalist, reporting on recent news and innovations within design and technology. I realized how many companies, big and small, are pushing out AI features at an impressive rate. It’s as if they are in an arms race against each other on who can hit the gold first. One could say that is what’s happening.

While artificial intelligence and machine learning techniques are nothing new, we now have massive computing power and a much-lowered threshold of integrating AI tools into products and systems. Today, there are many advanced AI-based plugins and tools that anyone can learn to integrate such as GPTs API.

The lowered threshold of implementing AI technology is a goldmine for companies, startups, students, and entrepreneurs alike. However, this also means that the entryway for malicious actors such as scammers is lowered as well. This means that malicious actors can now use advanced ML-generated content to manipulate, cheat, and hurt civilians. This is where the importance of human-centered AI comes in.

Why human-centeredness is important in AI

Human-centered AI as a concept brings forth the importance of designing AI that is good and ethical for humans. It’s a way of thinking that can be incorporated and intertwined in the teams that build the products and systems, and that can be taught to engineering and computer science students from the start.

From the perspective of ethical AI, we can also use ML techniques to build tools that help combat the malicious actors of our day. For example, in one of our most recent courses, we collaborated with RISE (Research Institutes of Sweden) to develop a prototype utilizing AI tools to detect and educate users about disinformation spread through news outlets.

With the rise of AI, we will most likely see more advanced scams and malicious acts, but we might also see people developing more advanced tools to help combat these issues. That is certainly one reason why a human-centered AI perspective is important in these times.

Keeping up with technology

Another reason to dive into the realm of human-centered AI is because the technology is here, and it’s here to stay. Looking at the big companies such as Google, Facebook, and TikTok, it’s no secret that they’re all competing to develop the AI tool that will be the next big thing – similar to how it was when the first search engines came to the market. Even smaller companies and startups are gaining ground, funding, and reputation for the sole reason of mentioning “AI” in their tag words.

While some say that this is just a current “AI hype” that will die down, others are certain that the boom in AI technology is here to stay. Whether you believe in the doomsayers or not, as a designer, developer, entrepreneur, or business manager, knowing AI and its implementations will most likely help you in your work in the coming years or even decades. Why not join the ride while you can? It’s fun!

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