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Saturday, December 2, 2023

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How Will AI Impact Your Life? (Hint: You’re Probably Already Using It!)

By SDSU News

Even if you’re not familiar with artificial intelligence (AI), you may already be using it in your banking, social interactions, or work tasks without even knowing it.


San Diego State University recently unveiled the James Silberrad Brown Center for Artificial Intelligence to research, teach and explore all the possibilities that AI has to offer. The center is located within SDSU’s Fowler College of Business.


AI expert and enthusiast, Mike Todasco, has recently joined the center as a visiting fellow to mentor and answer questions from students (and anyone else who asks him) about the technology’s potential. Todasco first became interested in, and familiar with, AI tools while he was the senior director of innovation at PayPal.


We asked Todasco about his new role at the AI Lab and how AI can change our lives.


Talk about your background and your work with AI.


I began my career doing accounting, finance, and strategy roles in manufacturing companies and it wasn’t until I got my MBA that I pivoted to tech. I was hired at PayPal in 2011 and was a product manager for many years. Machine learning was at the core of many of the major functions at the company, especially in areas like risk and security. Many things in machine learning and AI go unnoticed by people who use the product. I left PayPal early last year to focus on writing, advising, and building with the next generation of AI products.


Tell us a little about your role as a fellow in the James Silberrad Brown Center for Artificial Intelligence.


I’m so excited to be joining the AI Center! My role will include mentoring the talented students that are part of the center, supporting the research that is being done, and writing and speaking to people outside of SDSU about the center and how it can help the community and world. More broadly I want to be a resource for faculty, students, and staff who have questions and concerns about AI. I love to discuss these emerging technologies in very user-friendly terms, so don’t hesitate to reach out!


We’re hearing more and more about generative AI. What is it and how can it be used?


Generative AI and large language models (LLMs) like ChatGPT are intelligent software systems designed to do things like generate text. They “learn” by finding patterns in huge amounts of data. For example, begin writing a sentence. These models can complete that sentence by predicting a likely sequence of words based on what they've learned from their training data. They can generate creative sentences, paragraphs, or even full stories.


The thing that is magical about most of these generative AI tools is that anyone can use them. I remember getting demos for years at PayPal, seeing the amazing things that machine learning engineers could do and always being a bit envious. I wanted to play with those tools too! With generative AI tools like ChatGPT, Midjourney, Poe, and many others, you can use some of the world’s most complex AI models to do whatever you like them to do, and command them in plain English. These models are almost all free to try. I use these tools to do everything from vacation planning, to research, to making coloring book pages for my kids to color. The possibilities are only limited by your imagination. You embrace your inner child and play with them to see what they can do for you!


What are some of the ways AI can help humanity?


My favorite example of this is unlocking the mystery of protein folding. Misfolded proteins within the body may be one of the major causes of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and Huntington’s disease. This is an issue that has vexed researchers because predicting how a protein will fold is a problem of immense computational complexity. In 2020, a significant milestone was reached when Google’s AI division called DeepMind created AlphaFold 2. It could perform the calculations in significantly less cost and time than traditional methods and may accelerate drug discovery by helping to identify the structure of disease-causing proteins.


How do you see AI being used in our everyday lives in the coming years?


Every time you talk to Siri, load a Google Map, or Venmo a friend, many AI and machine learning services make that happen. That will only become more commonplace. We may be just five or so years away from being able to log onto Disney+, tell it you want to see new episodes of Mandalorian that focus on Baby Yoda and a reintroduction of characters from the original Star Wars movie, and it will auto-create all the content you are willing to watch. It won’t be as well-crafted as a studio produced, but it will be your personal streaming service.


What would you say to those who are hesitant to embrace AI?


For everyone who hasn’t tried these tools, I’d say just jump in and do it. I remember back when the Internet was becoming mainstream in the late 90s early 2000s, there were so many people who didn’t see the point of it and figured it would just go away. The Internet didn’t go away, nor will AI. AI will be part of our lives, and it is better that we all get in front of it. Try Midjourney. Try ChatGPT. And feel free to ask me if you have any questions about how to do it. Ultimately just go out there and explore. The amazing thing about these tools today (unlike even 18 months ago) is that you don’t have to be an engineer to use them. English is the new programming language and you have an opportunity to use it!