University of New Orleans computer science professor Ben Samuel will spend a portion of his summer working with the U.S. Navy on an artificial intelligence research project designed to produce AI methods that are easier to interpret and explain.
Samuel has been awarded a Summer Research Fellowship by the Office of Naval Research, which pairs faculty members with naval research mentors. The fellowship offers an opportunity to conduct full-time research of mutual interest to faculty members in academia and to the Navy.
Samuel will join a project where he will leverage his background in game design and interactive storytelling to explore interactive machine learning techniques. The project is working toward the Department of Defense’s broader agenda of explainable artificial intelligence, which is the ability to produce solutions that are clearly understood by humans.
“For decades, there’s been a friendly rivalry between symbolic approaches to artificial intelligence and statistical ones,” Samuel said. “Lately, statistical approaches have led to some incredibly impressive breakthroughs, but they often lack the explainability that symbolic approaches afford. This can lead to some pretty serious issues, such as biased decision-making that presents itself as an absolute truth whose bias is obscured through black-box processes.
“I hope that the work we accomplish this summer brings us a step closer towards bridging these approaches. The dream is to produce AI techniques that still produce marvelous results without sacrificing interpretability.”
Samuel, who earned a doctorate in computer science from the University of California Santa Cruz, has been an assistant professor of computer science at the University of New Orleans since 2017.
His research interest includes applying artificial intelligence in works of computational media, with a particular bent toward developing socially aware virtual agents and novel interactive storytelling techniques.
“Whether we’re studying and practicing in the arts, humanities or sciences, narrative is a core part of who we are,” Samuel said. “It’s woven into our very fabric of our beings. It is through storytelling that we understand our past and present, through storytelling we may shape the future.
“On top of that, work in interactive storytelling and games has lots of application areas to autonomous agents and broader AI challenges in general. I’m thrilled that ONR recognizes the importance and versatility of this work, and I’m excited to leverage it toward real world problems.”
The 10-week fellowship starts June 1 and includes a $16,500 stipend.
“We are very proud of Ben for being awarded the prestigious ONR Summer Research Fellowship” said Mahdi Abdelguerfi, professor and chair of the computer science department. “The University of New Orleans already has strong ties with the Naval Research Laboratory, and Ben’s selection into the program further strengthens our instructional and research partnership.”