MSU hosts the 2014 Wilson and Stibitz Awards

The night was one to remember as MSU and the American Computer and Robotics Museum honored six individuals at the Wilson and Stibitz awards for their contributions to computers and communication and four individuals for their work in biodiversity and technology.

The awards ceremony included a public forum titled Artificial Intelligence and the Future of Humanity and Diversity. Harvard professor emeritus and biologist researcher E.O. Wilson was on hand to help hand out awards along with MSU President Cruzado and the Director of the American Computer and Robotics Museum Dr. George Keremedjiev. Wilson began the night with opening remarks on his ideas regarding artificial intelligence and what actions people must take to make “a great deal of changes in humanity.”

In his talk Wilson voiced concern about the rising world population and a growing problem of consumption. According to the World Bank, Earth currently houses a world population of over 7.2 billion. With this number expected to only increase, Wilson noted that “the 8 million other species on the planet are declining,” and that “maybe … to improve the world’s condition, we must look at AI [artificial intelligence] and the robot.” Wilson’s ending remarks on AI ushered in the public forum moderated by associate professor of philosophy Dr. Sara Waller. Three MSU students asked the panel questions regarding their views and opinions of AI.

Professor of Cognitive Science and Comparative Literature at Indiana University Douglas Hofstadter was among one of the recipients for the George R. Stibitz award in computers and communication. He was quick to give a generalization of what AI is today and how it can move us into the future, “AI is a way in which we can develop computers to perform more human-like tasks.”

There was dissention among the recipients on whether AI is something that could have a positive impact on the future of humanity. Acclaimed author Dorothy Hinshaw Patent noted that robots could “never feel in the way that humans do, as all of that comes from our endocrine system and hormones.” While Hofstader tended to agree, he voiced concerns of AI becoming universal within the next “50 years.”

Wilson, one of the namesakes for the award, was born in Birmingham, AL in 1928 and attended the University of Alabama before receiving his Ph.D. at Harvard University in biology. In Wilson’s career, he has written over 27 books that have an emphasis on sociobiology and biodiversity. Wilson is now a retired professor emeritus at Harvard and remains an honorary curator in the field of entomology. He has received numerous prestigious awards for his research, and most notably won two Pulitzer prizes, in 1979 and 1991, for his work on studying ants and human nature.