GCU's Farris talks AI on AZ TechTalk panel Tuesday

Panelists discuss cybersecurity at an AZ TechTalk event on the Grand Canyon University campus in fall 2019. The next talk, on artificial intelligence, is a virtual event at 9 a.m. Tuesday.

By Lana Sweeten-Shults
GCU News Bureau

Dr. Dwight Farris, College of Science, Engineering and Technology instructor in IT and Cybersecurity, will be one of the thought leaders on the AI panel.

When people hear the term “artificial intelligence,” they think Cyberdyne Systems, Skynet, The Terminator – Danger, Will Robinson! – before they think of their iRobot Roomba.

“That misconception has been around awhile,” said Dr. Dwight Farris, instructor of Information Technology and Cybersecurity in Grand Canyon University’s College of Science, Engineering and Technology. “We’re far away from developing something like that. And we have to remember, the direction is not to develop these intelligent – well, not even robots – these intelligent beings to think for humans.

“That’s really not what AI is. It can be everything from data processing to just simple responses to behaviors by humans. That’s AI. It’s math. It’s algorithms. It’s truly things we can use to do our jobs better.”

Farris will delve into the evolving world of AI as one of the thought leaders in the latest AZ TechTalk, one of a series of talks hosted by AZ Business magazine. It included a discussion about cybersecurity on the GCU campus in fall 2019, which featured the college’s Associate Dean of Technology, Dr. Heather Monthie, as one of the expert panelists.

Dr. Heather Monthie, Associate Dean of Technology, spoke at the last AZ TechTalk.

The latest talk in the series, which was moved to a virtual setting because of the pandemic, was prerecorded and will be presented at 9 a.m. Tuesday, Sept. 8. To watch it, register here.

In addition to Farris, the event also will feature Erica Sietsma, Chief Operating Officer of Scottsdale-based Digital Air Strike, and Robert Brown, Managing Director for Data Analytics and Automation of BDO Digital.

The AI discussion seems apropos, especially for Phoenix, which has become an important hub for technology, IT and software companies. It was almost a decade ago that Forbes magazine asked if Phoenix was the next Silicon Valley. And, according to the Greater Phoenix Economic Council, in the last five years, software employment in greater Phoenix has increased an average of 28.2%.

In the world of AI, “Phoenix has become a hub, more so than Silicon Valley or any of the other hubs, as far as interest in AI,” Farris said. “That was an aspect the panelists touched on, and that is a true representation of what’s happening in the metro.”

Erica Sietsma, COO of Digital Air Strike, shares how her company uses AI.

Some of Tuesday’s talk will delve into how AI is changing the way companies, such as Digital Air Strike and BDO, do business. Digital Air Strike, for example, is incorporating AI and machine learning into its digital marketing tools.

Even five years ago, companies used artificial intelligence in basic ways but now it’s an integral part of their business.

Farris said although a lot of people tend to think of AI as synonymous with only robots, in the practical world, the technology is used in something as everyday as data processing, a topic the panelists touched on during the talk.

“As a matter of fact, during the pandemic, a lot of the data collection and the data evaluation, as far as what’s happening, has been done by AI, algorithms, etc.,” Farris said.

“If you’re analyzing several terabytes of data, which is quite a bit … a few years ago it would take several months to analyze that data to come up with results, whereas with AI, this can be done in just minutes.”

Not many people realize that the foundation of AI is math, he added, and that anyone who want to specialize in the field, including GCU students, will have to know how to dissect calculations and study advanced mathematics before even launching into their programming courses.

Another AI panelist is Robert Brown, Managing Director for Data Analytics and Automation of BDO Digital.

“It’s quite complex, the real AI, and not the comic book or science-fiction AI,” he said.

At the AZ TechTalk event, Farris speaks from an educator’s perspective about how GCU is using AI principles to educate the next generation of technology professionals.

Although GCU does not offer a dedicated AI class, he said, artificial intelligence is incorporated into every aspect of the College of Science, Engineering and Technology’s curriculum, from engineering to computer programming.

“All of our students will be knowledgeable on what’s happening in AI as they go into the workforce,” Farris said.


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