Equity in a World of Artificial Intelligence (2024)

Since our last blog in January on generative artificial intelligence (AI), the field has changed by leaps and bounds:

The higher education press continues to increase its coverage with multiple articles, blogs, and op-ed pieces in The Chronicle of Higher Education and Inside Higher Education among other outlets. Much of that coverage, though, continues to focus on the pedagogical implications of generative AI, including academic integrity concerns. Equally important, but discussed very little, are the equity considerations around how AI can and should be leveraged in higher education. Today we’ll look at both the positive and potentially negative aspects of generative AI in higher education as it relates to educational equity.

According to the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Educational Technology, “Technology can be a powerful tool for transformation learning. It can help affirm and advance relationships between educators and students, reinvent our approaches to learning and collaboration, shrink longstanding equity and accessibility gaps, and adapt learning experiences to meet the needs of all learners.” Artificial intelligence, when used deliberately and carefully, can advance equity by improving educational accessibility and assisting second language learners, among others.

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AI can be especially powerful when addressing learner accessibility. For example, students with dyslexia can benefit from AI as a December 10, 2022, Washington Post article demonstrated when it described how ChatGPT is being used by a British landscaper with dyslexia to rewrite emails so that they are more professional and more easily understood. Additionally, students and faculty with AD/HD are finding generative AI useful in approaching research and writing. As Maggie Melo wrote in her February 28, 2023, op-ed in Inside Higher Education, “My thinking and writing processes are not linear. ChatGPT affords me a controlled chaos.” Melo goes on to describe how the need to create an abstract can feel overwhelming despite having having done so numerous times. However, after asking ChatGPT “How to write an abstract,” she received an outline that, as she put it, “provides my mind with an anchor to focus on and return to.” And much like our British landscaper, non-native English speakers may also benefit from ChatGPT’s ability to revise and rephrase text. ChatGPT can be used to revise text for grammatical correctness and clarity.

Challenges to AI as a Tool for Equity

Algorithmic bias and the “New Jim Code”

In her 2019 work, Race After Technology, Princeton University sociologist Ruha Benjamin wrote about what she calls the “New Jim Code” and the problem of data and algorithmic bias.

Benjamin defined the “New Jim Code” as “the employment of new technologies that reflect and reproduce existing inequities but that are promoted and perceived as more objective or progressive than the discriminatory systems of a previous era” (5). Generative AI is trained on large existing data sets, mostly scraped off the internet. This means that models are ingesting biased information as well as information that is likely to over-represent certain groups such as white, economically well-off individuals. As the old adage goes, “garbage in, garbage out.”

The result is algorithmic bias. Algorithmic bias “describes systematic and repeatable errors in a computer system that create unfair outcomes, such as privileging one arbitrary group of users over others. Also, occurs when an algorithm produces results that are systemically prejudiced due to erroneous assumptions in the machine learning process.” In addition to challenges with training data, algorithmic bias is also impacted by the implicit bias of generative AI developers, a field in which white men are over-represented and women and some racial groups such as Blacks and Latinos are under-represented. As Henry Kissenger, Eric Schmidt, and Daniel Huttenlocher wrote in Age of AI: And Our Human Future, “The algorithms, training data, and objectives for machine learning are determined by the people developing and training the AI, thus they reflect those people’s values, motivations, goals, and judgment” (77).

Student Access and the Expansion of the Digital Divide

In addition to challenges around algorithmic bias, AI also experiences challenges of access. According to the 2021 American Community Survey One Year Estimates, “Types of Computers and Internet Subscriptions,” of the 127,544,730 households in the United States, 6,320,698 (4.9%) had no computing device including a smartphone and 12,374,652 (9.7%) had no internet subscription including no cellular data plan. This digital divide is especially acute for low-income Americans with 15.3 percent of Americans with income less than $75,000 lacking internet access. And a Pew Research Center 2021 study found that 15 percent of all American adults were smartphone only internet users but that number rose sharply to 28 percent when looking at 18-29 years old. Even then, that number is not equally divided among all racial groups. 25 percent of Hispanic young adults and 17% of Black young adults were smartphone only internet users as compared to 10 percent of White young adults.

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Why does the digital divide matter when we explore equity and AI? Simply put, most generative AI is difficult to use without an internet connection. Although text based generative AI like ChaptGPT can run on mobile devices, its response time may be slower than one would experience when using a high-speed internet connection. Making more sophisticated queries with long outputs would be difficult, at best.

In addition to challenges resulting from the digital divide, there are challenges associated with the cost of using generative AI tools themselves. Chat GPT, which started out free, is now partially behind a paywall begging the question of how much longer these tools will remain freely available. In fact, the economic realities of the astronomical costs of running generative AI almost guarantees that such paywalls will become more common. CNBC reports that just training a large language model could be more than $4 million. Some estimates of daily cost to run it put it at $100,000 per day or $3,000,000 per month.

What will be the result of fewer students having access to generative AI? We run the risk of the digital divide turning into an AI divide. Some students who lack sufficient access will not gain the skills related to working with generative AI that will be increasingly necessary as we enter an age of hybrid human/AI work.

What Does this Mean for You?

Generative AI has the potential to revolutionize society, including higher education, in ways that we still are determining. But as higher education professionals, we need to be cognizant of how we leverage generative AI. How can you build upon the promise of generative AI while mitigating some of its challenges?

  • Explore the ways that generative AI can be leveraged to improve learner accessibility. This may mean working with various offices on campus including the office that handles student accommodations.
  • Be especially cognizant of the limitations that students may have accessing generative AI and plan accordingly. This might mean ensuring that there are adequate campus resources and, for face-to-face and hybrid courses, even consider focusing on AI usage during class via campus computer labs or in-classroom device loan programs.
  • Help students think critically about the results of generative AI, especially large language models trained on biased data sets. A key piece of data literacy in the age of artificial intelligence needs to be a discussion of algorithmic bias and the New Jim Code.
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As we continue to explore the ways in which generative artificial intelligence can impact higher education, it is critical for us to remember that no technology is neutral.

As Kate Crawford in Atlas of AI puts it, “Artificial intelligence is not on objective, universal, or neutral computational technique that makes determinations without human direction. Its systems are embedded in social, political, cultural, and economic worlds, shaped by humans, institutions, and imperatives that determine what they do and how they do it” (211). Does this negate the potential advantages of generative AI and the ways that it can improve educational equity? No, but it does mean we should be cognizant of the potential for further educational inequity and work to counter that potential.

Van Davis

Chief Strategy Officer, WCET, Service Design and Strategy Officer, Every Learner Everywhere



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Van Davis

Chief Strategy Officer, WCET, Service Design and Strategy Officer, Every Learner Everywhere


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Van joined WCET in 2021 as chief strategy officer where he is responsible for all aspects of WCET’s strategic planning; diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts; and assisting the team with policy and research efforts. Van also serves as service design and strategy officer with Every Learner Everywhere where he leads the development and delivery of the organization’s Service Design and Delivery work.

Van is a valuable asset to the team, having over 25 years of experience in higher education as a faculty member, academic administrator, state policy maker, and edtech leader. Van holds a PhD in 20th century US history with an emphasis in civil rights from Vanderbilt University, and his commitment to education is evidenced in both his professional and personal successes. Additionally, Van led the creation of the Texas adult degree complete project and the development of the first competency-based bachelor’s degrees at Texas public institutions of higher education during his time on the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board.

Van lives outside of Austin, Texas, with his beloved wife Lisa and two cats and, when not working, spends time collecting Lego models and dreaming of the day he can complete his western US camping trip. Van’s favorite book is To Kill a Mockingbird, and his favorite movie is Dr. Strangelove.

Equity in a World of Artificial Intelligence (5)


Thinking Strategically About Student Belonging in Online Learning


Equity in a World of Artificial Intelligence (2024)


How does artificial intelligence affect society today? ›

The creation of new job opportunities

AI has become increasingly important in today's world as it has the potential to revolutionize many industries, including healthcare, finance, education, and more. The use of AI has already improved efficiency, reduced costs, and increased accuracy in various fields.

How does AI empower today's world? ›

Manufacturers are embedding AI into products to provide personalized and intelligent assistance, predictive maintenance, and remote monitoring, and retailers are helping consumers find and recommend products and services in a more personal, trusted, and appropriate manner.

Can we trust artificial intelligence? ›

Just like humans, AI systems can make mistakes. For example, a self-driving car might mistake a white tractor-trailer truck crossing a highway for the sky. But to be trustworthy, AI needs to be able to recognize those mistakes before it is too late.

Can AI take over the world answer? ›

The Answer, No. AI will not take over the world. The notion is science fiction.

How is artificial intelligence demonstrated in the society? ›

Robots are often used to perform tasks that are difficult for humans to perform or perform consistently. For example, robots are used in car production assembly lines or by NASA to move large objects in space. Researchers also use machine learning to build robots that can interact in social settings. Self-driving cars.

What is the impact of AI on society positive or negative? ›

One of the main concerns of society is that with the rise of artificial intelligence, many jobs that are characterized by a sort of routine, will get automated. The more jobs that get automated, the more people will have to leave their jobs. While many might see it as a negative side of AI, it isn't.

Does an artificial intelligence make a positive impact in our society? ›

By examining more significant quantities of data, AI can help identify trends and provide better results to adjust to strategy and decision-making. This can be applied in detailed analyses of operations, customer behaviour, and industry trends.

What are the most positive ways AI has on modern society? ›

Improved Business Efficiency

AI helps ensure 24-hour service availability and delivers the same consistency and performance throughout the day. The benefit of artificial intelligence is that it takes care of all repetitive tasks.

What is the goal of artificial intelligence in today's world? ›

The goals of artificial intelligence include computer-enhanced learning, reasoning, and perception. AI is being used today across different industries from finance to healthcare. Weak AI tends to be simple and single-task oriented, while strong AI carries on tasks that are more complex and human-like.

How will AI impact society in the future? ›

These AI robots can detect objects and obstructions, find safe paths, and help discover new locations that weren't otherwise possible. In the future, the use of AI in space exploration will help right from mission planning, to execution, to operations, to the completion stage.

Can artificial intelligence do everything? ›

AI Can Only Work With Inputted Data

Anything more than that would take on more than it can handle, and machines are not built that way. So, when the data inputted into the machine does not include a new area of work, or its algorithm does not include unforeseen circumstances, the machine becomes useless.

How can AI improve our lives in the future? ›

The productivity of artificial intelligence may boost our workplaces, which will benefit people by enabling them to do more work. As the future of AI replaces tedious or dangerous tasks, the human workforce is liberated to focus on tasks for which they are more equipped, such as those requiring creativity and empathy.

How effective is artificial intelligence? ›

One of the biggest advantages of Artificial Intelligence is that it can significantly reduce errors and increase accuracy and precision. The decisions taken by AI in every step is decided by information previously gathered and a certain set of algorithms. When programmed properly, these errors can be reduced to null.

What happens when AI is smarter than us? ›

The theory is that AI, coupled with other technological advancements, will progress at an exponentially faster rate until it able to autonomously improve its own software and hardware and far surpasses human intelligence, and indeed, becomes of greater consequence than human existence.

Can AI ever beat human intelligence? ›

The processing of data and commands is essential to the operation of AI-powered devices. When it comes to speed, humans are no match for artificial intelligence or robots.

Will AI overpower humans? ›

We cannot conclude that robots have outperformed people since their cognitive talents, such as emotion detection and creativity, are still far below human capabilities. In certain specialised domains, however, we may confidently declare that AI has overpowered humans.

What impact will artificial intelligence have on humanity? ›

Others argue that AI poses dangerous privacy risks, exacerbates racism by standardizing people, and costs workers their jobs, leading to greater unemployment. For more on the debate over artificial intelligence, visit ProCon.org.

How does AI make humans lazy? ›

Automating everyday work is one of the ways AI has made people lazy. Machines that can carry out the same duties more rapidly and correctly have taken the place of many jobs, especially in the industrial and service sectors. As a result, there is no longer a need for human labor, giving people more free time.

What are 3 examples of how AI may have a negative impact on society? ›

These negative effects include unemployment, bias, terrorism, and risks to privacy, which the paper will discuss in detail.

What are the social issues of artificial intelligence? ›

Privacy, security and deepfakes: Malicious AI could threaten digital, physical, and political security. For example, people could train machines to hack victims in various ways, weaponize consumer drones, automate unfavourable campaigns for political reasons or implement privacy-eliminating surveillance programmes.

What is the argument against AI? ›

But there are many ethical challenges: Lack of transparency of AI tools: AI decisions are not always intelligible to humans. AI is not neutral: AI-based decisions are susceptible to inaccuracies, discriminatory outcomes, embedded or inserted bias. Surveillance practices for data gathering and privacy of court users.

How is artificial intelligence helping us today? ›

Managing Repetitive Tasks

Performing repetitive tasks can become very monotonous and time-consuming. Using AI for tiresome and routine tasks can help us focus on the most important tasks in our to-do list. An example of such an AI is the Virtual Financial assistant used by the Bank Of America, called Erica.

How does artificial intelligence affect society and economy? ›

It can increase the efficiency with which things are done and vastly improve the decision-making process by analysing large amounts of data. It can also spawn the creation of new products and services, markets and industries, thereby boosting consumer demand and generating new revenue streams.

What is the importance of artificial intelligence in future world? ›

Future developments in cybersecurity will be complex thanks to the interaction of AI and human intelligence. AI will make it possible to combat escalating cybercrimes and attacks effectively. The manufacturing and transportation industries stand to benefit greatly from AI.

How artificial intelligence will change the world? ›

One of the most obvious ways AI is shaping the future is through automation. With the help of machine learning, computers can now perform tasks that were once only possible for humans to complete. This includes tasks such as data entry, customer service, and even driving cars.

How does artificial intelligence change the world? ›

Many AI-based robots are widely popular in engineering, manufacturing, and health. On the other hand, advanced robots are helpful for deep earth research, space exploration, and disease control in the medical field. Advanced AI helps medical professionals identify and treat sickness.

How will artificial intelligence change the future in society? ›

The productivity of artificial intelligence may boost our workplaces, which will benefit people by enabling them to do more work. As the future of AI replaces tedious or dangerous tasks, the human workforce is liberated to focus on tasks for which they are more equipped, such as those requiring creativity and empathy.


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