Advancing Curiosity Award to Support Interdisciplinary Research on Tackling Misinformation

Advancing Curiosity Grant awarded to iSchool team to research combatting misinformation online


The University of Texas at Austin School of Information Associate Professors Matthew Lease and Kenneth R. Fleischmann have been awarded a $150,000 grant from the Micron Foundation for a two-year project, “Tackling Misinformation through Socially-Responsible AI". In addition to Lease and Fleischmann, the project team includes Associate Professor Samuel Baker (English), Associate Professor Natalie Stroud (Communication Studies), and Professor Sharon Strover (Radio-TV-Film).

Socially-responsible artificial intelligence (AI) involves designing AI technologies to create positive societal impacts. “Emerging AI technologies create tremendous potential for both good or harm,” wrote the research team. “We cannot simply assume benign use, nor can we develop AI technologies in a vacuum ignoring their societal implications.” However, how does an abstract goal like socially-responsible AI get implemented in practice to solve real societal problems? “We argue that grounding the pursuit of responsible AI technology in the context of a real societal challenge is critical to achieving progress on responsible AI,” the team writes, “because it forces us to translate abstract research questions into real, practical problems to be solved.”

In particular, the team will pursue socially-responsible AI to tackle the contemporary challenge of combatting misinformation online. While recent AI research has sought to develop automatic AI systems to predict whether online news stories are real or fake, “why should anyone trust a black-box AI model telling them what to believe”, the team asks, “when many people distrust even well-known news outlets and fact-checking organizations? How do people decide ― if it is a conscious and rational choice ― to believe or even circulate what is actually misinformation? How can AI systems be designed for effective human interaction to help people better decide for themselves what to believe?”

The project team brings diverse, relevant expertise and prior work experience on socially-responsible AI and online misinformation. In fact, team members are already collaborating as part of the campus-wide Good Systems Initiative, a UT Bridging Barriers Grand Challenge to design the future of socially-responsible AI. Good Systems has become a major catalyst at UT in promoting projects on socially-responsible AI, and Micron Foundation support for this project will enable the research team to tackle the specific challenges of designing socially-responsible AI to combat misinformation.

“Our project will develop real use cases, interface designs, prototype applications, and user-centered evaluations,” said Lease. “By grounding AI research in the context of specific social problems, designers can directly consider and confront the societal context of use as AI models are conceived and refined.”The team members explain that this will aid the discovery of new insights into how good AI systems can be developed in general to maximize societal benefit.

The Micron Foundation sought proposals from multi-disciplinary research groups and non-profit organizations investigating how artificial intelligence, machine leaning, and deep learning can improve life while also addressing ethical issues, security, and privacy. Established in 1999 as a private, nonprofit organization with a gift from Micron Technology, the Micron Foundation’s grants, programs, and volunteers focus on promoting science and engineering education and addressing basic human needs.