Featured photo: Tonya Stephens discusses the upcoming Artificial Intelligence program with WTZQ radio host Mark Warwick. (Photo by Rich Keen, Marketing and Communications Dept.)
Marketing & Communications Dept.
WTZQ radio host Mark Warwick recently interviewed Blue Ridge instructor Tonya Stephens for the monthly Education Elevated on-air feature. The topic of discussion was the College’s new Artificial Intelligence (AI) program scheduled to launch in August.
In Stephens’ own words, AI is the development of machines to train them to do things that require human intelligence. The AI field has exploded in recent months with its progress and opportunities becoming more popular with the general public.
The program, which starts in the Fall 2023 semester, was born not only of opportunities in the field, but also directly from Stephens’ continuing education as a faculty member in her field. In one lecture, she was inspired by the ways AI could help students excel in their coursework.
“[An AI expert] started talking about how students who were having problems with math were given an AI tutor,” Stephens recalled. “The AI tutor was spotting where they were having issues quicker than all but the most seasoned of math instructors. I wanted to know how I could get it into my classroom.”
Stephens continued pursuing AI training and then ventured into building chatbots. In those classes, Stephens learned the four pillars of AI: perception, reasoning, knowledge, and interaction. Perception is the computer’s vision and speech abilities combined with their ability to recognize and process that auditory and visual information. Reasoning allows the computer to make a decision using the information provided. Knowledge trains the AI to make better decisions based on the information provided. Finally, interaction building makes the AI more user friendly.
“AI encompasses a very large field. One area is natural language processing, and this is where you will find it using speech recognition like in a text when a phone predicts the next word by analyzing sentences,” Stephens said. “Another popular area is generation AI like ChatGPT.”
Stephens is excited about the new pathway and classes they are building at Blue Ridge Community College. The subjects include the history and current applications of AI, machine learning, intelligent design, Python programming and more. Stephens expects the skills from this program can be leveraged across all kinds of different industries to enhance decision making, unlock new opportunities
She also acknowledged the hesitancy she has witnessed related to AI.
“Fears are always related to any new technology. We need to make sure that we use it responsibly and address issues like bias, privacy, transparency, and accountability,” Stephens said. “Many have heard doom and gloom that AI will take jobs, but I believe that AI is more than that. AI is here to transform jobs. I believe very firmly that AI can improve humanity.”
Learn more about the Artificial Intelligence pathway pathway on the Blue Ridge Community College website, and the full archive of WTZQ’s Education Elevated radio features is available on the WTZQ website.