Shaw Center Leadership Intern and Lender Center Student Fellow Nadia Larissa Lyngdoh-Sommer Involved in Social Justice AI Research

These days, it’s hard to go anywhere without encountering artificial intelligence (AI).

Predictive text offers to finish our web searches and our text messages. AI learning-based software can produce everything from research papers to poetry, solving complex math equations to writing computer code. AI can be used to write algorithms, collect data on which areas experience the most gun violence and dictate which neighborhoods receive access to vital resources.

This year, five students who make up the 2022-24 Lender Center for Social Justice Fellowship Project will set out to investigate how AI weapons systems transform war and surveillance, and they will also analyze how AI accentuates our social and political vulnerabilities to violence.

The research team will use collaborative documentation, GIS-enabled mapping and immersive media techniques to study precisely how artificial intelligence weapons and systems may bring about social and political changes.

These research-based advocacy projects will be directed by Mona Bhan, associate professor of anthropology in the Maxwell School. Last fall, Bhan was selected as the center’s 2022-24 faculty fellow.

Bhan will conduct the project along with other University faculty, University centers such as the Autonomous Systems Policy Institute and this new cohort of student fellows to analyze and disseminate findings on the social justice implications of AI weaponry. The project is part of a larger research and advocacy project Bhan is carrying out with her longtime collaborator, Haley Duschinski, of Ohio University.

Get to know ParKer Bryant, Aren Burnside, Nadia Larissa Lyngdoh-Sommer, Cheryl Olanga and Anna Terzaghi, the 2022-24 Lender Center student fellows. These students will be provided with a $2,000 stipend between 2022-24 and will have opportunities for additional funding.

ParKer Bryant, Ph.D. student

ParKer Bryant
A dedicated teacher and learner, when COVID struck in the spring of 2020, Bryant started researching where to obtain her doctoral degree. That’s when Bryant came across the research being done on literacy and teacher preparation by Marcelle Haddix, associate provost for strategic initiatives and Distinguished Dean’s Professor of Literacy, Race and Justice.

Bryant applied for the student fellowship in part because she wants to study how to achieve balance between AI and education, specifically focusing on the implications that stem from releasing much of our memory and cognition to technology. The end goal? Learning how to make peace with this new technology while striving for a balanced relationship between AI and education.

“I’m interested in future thought, not necessarily being present in the right now, but in where we’re going. I applied because I wanted to do more with AI and education, focusing on the implications when we release so much of our cognition to technology, and what impact that has on us as a society and those of us who are educators,” says Bryant, who is pursuing her Ph.D. in literacy education from the School of Education.

Aren Burnside ’20, Ph.D student

Aren Burnside ’20
Growing up in Syracuse, Burnside is very familiar with the issues affecting the city, which include one of the highest child poverty rates in the country. He’s committed to using his fellowship and his time at the University—Burnside earned dual bachelor’s degrees in anthropology and philosophy from the Maxwell School and is currently in his third year of Maxwell’s anthropology doctoral program—to bring about change in the city.

By studying how residents interact with the city’s spaces—both physical spaces like buildings and roads and interpersonal space created through relationships—Burnside wants to know more about how space is created, produced and maintained in the city, and why some segments of the population flourish while others struggle to make ends meet.

“You can’t really understand how citizens interact with their spaces until you do a deep dive into questions like how certain communities that are targeted by the police and similar militarized forces are left out of these new investments in the community. I’m especially interested in the ways that the military funding and wealth produce uneven space in the city and how certain groups get better access to resources and jobs based on the infrastructure in the city,” Burnside says.

Nadia Lyngdoh-Sommer ’25

Nadia Lyngdoh-Sommer ’25
Much like Burnside, Lyngdoh-Sommer is quite familiar with the societal issues Syracuse residents face on a daily basis as a tutor for students on the north side of the city through the Shaw Center, the University’s hub for academic community engagement.

Unlike her fellow cohort members, Lyngdoh-Sommer comes in without any previous research experience. But growing up in Singapore, Lyngdoh-Sommer witnessed how the country uses AI technology to police and surveil its citizens.

This fellowship represents the perfect introduction to the field of how AI weapons systems transform war and surveillance activities and accentuate the social and political vulnerabilities of humans to violence.

“My sociology major was really helpful because I was already familiar with a lot of the background on the inequalities and criminal justice issues in Syracuse. We are researching how AI adds to the militarization and disproportionate policing efforts in certain communities in Syracuse. Certain areas are affected much more by this over-policing, and AI plays a large role in that,” Lyngdoh-Sommer says.

Cheryl Olanga ’25

Cheryl Olanga ’25
Whenever Olanga logs into her social media channels, she notices a problem. The AI systems used display embedded patterns of bias, discrimination, racism, ableism and sexism. And that doesn’t sit well with Olanga, a sophomore studying computer science in the College of Engineering and Computer Science.

Since coming to the University, Olanga says she’s become more aware of the ways AI is inherently biased against people of color and plans to use her student fellowship and her academic pursuits to devise a framework and a blueprint for devising solutions to the implicit biases found in AI.

“My classes focus on writing and analyzing algorithms, and I want to use my computer science degree to help solve the social issues we’re facing. We will come up with solutions to combat the issues I want to change when I graduate,” Olanga says. “I’m living my dream and the Lender Student Fellowship has provided me this platform to actualize my dreams and my passion for changing these systems that have been normalized in today’s world.

Anna Terzaghi ’24

Anna Terzaghi ’24
Studying social justice issues piqued Terzaghi’s interest from a young age. When she was in high school in Sydney, Australia, Terzaghi became involved in community problem-solving, devising strategies for addressing the issues that plague society.

For Terzaghi, one of the biggest issues she’s encountered has been drone surveillance, drone technology and the humanitarian issues related to AI, specifically how drones and AI track people who are trying to escape persecution.

She plans on working with the Upstate Drone Coalition—a dedicated group of Syracuse residents who often protest the ways drones are utilized in and around the area—to both better understand the why behind their work and to become inspired to get more involved in her own social justice causes.

“The ability to surveil people using drones, technology and AI, to track them as they are fleeing a situation, is problematic and comes with a lot of ethical questions. What is right when it comes to the use of drones? How are these humanitarian issues playing out on the world stage today?” says Terzaghi, a junior majoring in international relations and anthropology in the Maxwell School.

This article was originally published on Monday, February 13, 2023, By John Boccacino here