Elon University

Higher education’s essential role in preparing humanity for the artificial intelligence revolution

A statement issued by a diverse group of educators and scholars at the 18th annual United Nations lnternet Governance Forum, October 2023, Kyoto, Japan

The rapid development of artificial intelligence is igniting exciting opportunities and posing frightening risks to humanity. Technology experts and entrepreneurs are implementing applications that are benefiting human health and well-being, scientific discovery, business practices, media and information systems, education and much more. At the same time, hundreds of AI experts, policymakers and others signed a statement about existential risks of this technology and some have called for a moratorium on the training of AI systems until safety protocols can be developed.

Regulatory bodies around the world are considering ways to govern AI as its impact on modern life unfolds. These actions include the overwhelming approval of the Artificial Intelligence Act by the European Parliament. At stake are such foundational structures as are covered by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: basic human rights and dignity, health, security, truth, freedom of action and thought, work, education, culture and spiritual development. It is therefore essential that wise and diverse perspectives about AI are voiced at this crucial time, preparing our world for what lies ahead.

We applaud the UNESCO recommendation that educational institutions worldwide should foster AI literacy to empower people and reduce digital access inequalities. Lifelong citizen education, from early childhood onward, has proven to be the most effective strategy that societies use to adapt to new technologies and shape them for human purposes. As concerned educators, leaders and scholars, we urge higher education institutions to accelerate their commitment to serve society’s best interests in the age of AI. We also urge government, business and civil society to provide resources to support these educational efforts. To guide this work, we recommend the following six holistic principles as a framework for action:

PRINCIPLES

  1. People, not technology, must be at the center of our work
    Teaching and learning about AI should begin with the primacy of human health and well-being, dignity, safety, privacy and security. We must educate people about the inviolable value of human oversight and control of AI systems and the paramount importance of safeguards that guarantee AI systems do no harm to people. We should engender an understanding of responsible AI development designed to augment and enhance human capabilities rather than replace them and risk undermining basic human autonomy, agency and dignity.
  2. We should promote digital inclusion within and beyond our institutions
    All people associated with educational institutions should have the opportunity to fully participate in the digital world and interact with AI systems. This includes physical access to digital devices and the internet, as well as the permission and capability to engage effectively and equitably with these technologies. With consideration of institutional mission, we urge universities to collaborate with government, the private sector and civil society entities to expand outreach to all populations, especially those disadvantaged by poverty, disability, geographic isolation, income level and education and literacy level. We should work together to develop global human knowledge and understanding about AI and the way it influences our lives.
  3. Digital and information literacy is an essential part of a core education
    Universities should embrace instruction in foundational skills and knowledge about digital technologies, preparing all learners to use AI proficiently, safely and ethically. Everyone should understand the basic concepts of computer systems, machine learning, data science, algorithms and programming. Since AI is a multidisciplinary field, people should know about AI’s intersections with philosophy and ethics, social sciences, health sciences, business, communications, government and legal studies, creative arts and many other fields. Universities should help learners gain critical thinking and analysis skills appropriate for functioning in an AI-assisted world, including concepts such as social responsibility and citizenship, media and information literacy, how AI might reinforce human bias and discrimination, its implications for personal privacy, intellectual property and the ways it can abet deception through fraud and fakery.
  4. AI tools should enhance teaching and learning
    AI technologies should empower learners, enrich and extend the educational experience and advance access and equity in education. The role of AI should be to augment, not fully replace the vital human relationships between teachers and learners, or within groups of peer learners. AI systems should never compromise the privacy of students’ personal data and humans should maintain a primary role in the evaluation of students’ learning progress, behaviors and outcomes. AI systems used in education should be transparent and neutral – they should disclose the positionality of their data and models and should not manipulate learning processes in unethical, deceptive or subliminal ways.
  5. Learning about technologies is an experiential, lifelong process
    Because AI is constantly evolving, institutions of higher learning should emphasize the need for continuous skill development and human adaptability. Learners should be encouraged to apply their knowledge in conjunction with AI tools to solve real-world problems, collaborate with those building AI systems and share their findings. Universities should partner with external enterprises to create internship opportunities, sponsor learning events and lectures and inspire collaborative projects that provide learners with practical exposure to AI technologies and rapidly changing applications.
  6. AI research and development must be done responsibly
    As an engine of discovery, innovation and societal progress, higher education should adopt rigorous ethical standards and failsafe systems for AI research and design. Scientists should take all necessary steps to ensure that AI development takes full account of the likely benefits it will produce, the limits that should be imposed on its application, and the risks (known and unknown) and potential negative consequences that might emerge from these technologies. AI’s relationship to the development of new creative works must be clearly understood, along with its impact on intellectual property rights. Administrative accountability and requirements should be in place, similar to laboratory safeguards for dangerous biological agents.

In support of these principles, we call for the higher education community, including those beyond the traditional technology fields, to be proactively and integrally involved in the development of multistakeholder governance mechanisms for AI. Educators in all fields are well suited to provide intellectual and ethical guidance, conduct much-needed independent research, serve as trustworthy watchdogs and be advocates for learners, teachers and society.

Lead authors

Connie Ledoux Book

President, Elon University, North Carolina, USA; chair, National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities (NAICU)

Lee Rainie

Former director of internet and technology research, Pew Research Center; Elon University scholar-in-residence

Divina Frau-Meigs

Professor, Sorbonne Nouvelle University (Paris, France), UNESCO chair Savoir Devenir in sustainable digital development, member of MILID and ORBICOM networks

With support of the following:

>> Add your name to the list of signatories.

Executive leaders and representatives

Jonathan Alger
President, James Madison University (USA)

Nancy Cantor
Chancellor and distinguished professor, Rutgers University-Newark (USA)

Nico Carpentier
On behalf of the International Association for Media and Communication Research (IAMCR); professor, Charles University (Czech Republic)

John Downey
On behalf of the European Communication Research and Education Association (ECREA) (UK)

Rebecca Ehretsman
President, Wartburg College (USA)

Tracy Fitzsimmons
President, Shenandoah University (USA)

Lisa C. Freeman
President, Northern Illinois University (USA)

Stephen Higgs
Chancellor, University of Otago (New Zealand)

Alan Inouye
Senior director for public policy & government relations, American Library Association (USA)

Kristina Juraitė
UNESCO Chair on Media and Information Literacy for Inclusive Knowledge Societies, Vytautas Magnus University (Lithuania)

Harvey Kesselman
President emeritus and professor of education, Stockton University (USA)

Katharina Miller and Mohammad Husseini
On behalf of the Special Interest Group of the Network for Education and Research Quality (NERQ), “Generative AI, DEI and Research Integrity: Navigating the Intersections” (International)

Bitange Ndemo
Kenya’s Ambassador to Belgium and former Secretary of the Ministry of Information and Communication; professor of entrepreneurship, University of Nairobi (Kenya)

Gina Neff
On behalf of the Strategy Group for Responsible AI UK; Executive director, Minderoo Centre for Technology & Democracy, University of Cambridge (UK)

Arlindo Oliveira
President, Institute of Systems and Computer Engineering; European Parliament Panel for the Future of Science and Technology advisory board; Machine Learning and Knowledge Discovery Group leader, INESC-ID; IST Distinguished Professor, Instituto Superior Técnico, University of Lisbon (Portugal)

Lynn Pasquerella
President, American Association of Colleges & Universities (USA)

José Luis Cruz Rivera
President, Northern Arizona University (USA)

Jeff Stein
President, Mary Baldwin University (USA)

Eiko Tanimoto
President of the Board of Trustees/Chancellor, Kansai Gaidai University (Japan)

Aswani K. Volety
Chancellor, University of North Carolina Wilmington (USA)

Mark Zupan
President, Alfred University (USA)

Faculty members & researchers

Susan Ariel Aaronson
Research Professor, co-pI NIST-NSF Trustworthy AI Institute for Law and Society; Director, Digital Trade and Data Governance Hub, George Washington University (USA)

Laura Ación
Executive co-director/adjunct researcher, MetaDocencia/National Research Council in Argentina; University of Buenos Aires (Argentina)

Haya Ajjan
Associate dean of the Love School of Business, Elon University (USA)

Mustafa Akben
Assistant professor of management, Elon University (USA)

Omar Al-Ghazzi
Associate professor of media and communications, London School of Economics and Political Science (UK)

Walid Al-Saqaf
Associate professor of journalism, Södertörn University (Sweden)

Johnny Allred
Assistant professor of English education, Brigham Young University (USA)

Micah Altman
Research scientist, Center for Research in Equitable and Open Scholarship, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (USA)

Donna Alvermann
Distinguished research professor emeritus, University of Georgia (USA)

Janna Anderson
Professor of communications and director of the Imagining the Internet Center, Elon University (USA)

Peng Hwa Ang
Director, University Scholars Programme and professor, Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information, Nanyang Technological University (Singapore)

Eiji Aoki
Director, Institute for Hyper Network Society (Japan)

Crista Arangala
Director of Data Nexus and professor of mathematics, Elon University (USA)

Satish Babu
Chair, Asia Pacific School on Internet Governance (India)

Raju Barthakur
Professor of communications, North Eastern Regional Institute of Science and Technology (NERIST) (India)

Gloria Alvarez Benito
Professor of philology, University of Seville (Spain)

Luciana Benotti
Associate professor of computer science, Universidad Nacional de Córdoba; researcher, Argentinean Research Council (Argentina)

Matthias Boehm
Professor for large-scale data engineering, Technical University of Berlin and the BIFOLD research center (Germany)

Stefani Boutelier
Associate professor of education, Aquinas College (USA)

Catherine Brooks
Interim dean, iSchool; founding director, Center for Digital Society and Data Studies, University of Arizona (USA)

Adilson Vaz Cabral Filho
Professor of social communication, Fluminense Federal University (Brazil)

Andrea Calderaro
Senior lecturer and director of the Centre for Internet and Global Politics, Cardiff University (UK)

Lee Cartier
Professor emeritus of business administration, Okanagan College (Canada)

Kristin Casasanto
Director of post-graduate planning, Olin College of Engineering (USA)

Drissia Chouit
Professor of comparative linguistics, communication and media studies; co-chair UNESCO Media and Information Literacy Alliance, Moulay Ismail University of Meknes (Morocco)

Giuseppe Claudio Cicu
Lawyer, Ph.D. candidate and researcher, University of Turin (Italy)

Lynn Schofield Clark
Professor and director, Estlow International Center for Journalism & New Media, University of Denver (USA)

Diana Daly
Associate dean of Undergraduate Academic Affairs and Student Success; associate professor of practice, School of Information, University of Arizona (USA)

Buroshiva Dasgupta
Director, School of Media Communications Fine Arts & Design, Sister Nivedita University (India)

Sara (Meg) Davis
Professor of digital health and rights, University of Warwick (UK)

Badrinath Dhakal
Chemistry instructor, Wayne Community College (USA)

Michael Dezuanni
Professor of communication, Digital Media Research Centre and the Centre of Excellence for the Digital Child, Queensland University of Technology (Australia)

Helen Donis-Keller
Professor of biology and art, Olin College of Engineering (USA)

David Eaves
Associate professor in digital government, Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose, University College London (UK)

Glenn Edens
Professor of practice, Thunderbird School of Global Management, Arizona State University (USA)

Lee Edwards
Professor of strategic communication and public engagement, London School of Economics and Political Science (UK)

Fatma Elzahraa Elsayed
Professor of journalism and digital media, Cairo University (Egypt)

Seyed Emamian
Assistant professor in public policy and regulation, AmirKabir University of Technology (Iran)

Flavio Figallo Rivadeneyra
Vice minister of pedagogical management, Pontifical Catholic University of Peru

Mário A. T. Figueiredo
IST Distinguished Professor and Feedzai Professor of Machine Learning, Instituto Superior Técnico, University of Lisbon (Portugal)

Valerie Frissen
Professor Digital Technologies and Social Change, Centre for eLaw, Leiden University (Netherlands)

Marcus Foth
Professor of urban informatics, Queensland University of Technology (Australia)

Marlon Gamido
Associate professor of Information and Communication Technology, Tarlac State University (Philippines)

Merideth Garcia
Associate professor of English, University of Wisconsin-La Crosse (USA)

Eve Gaumond
Legal scholar, University of Montreal (Canada)

Mohammad Hanif Gharanai
Assistant professor of digital policy and ICT4D strategic, Kabul University (Afghanistan)

Dan Gillmor
Professor of practice and co-founder, News Co/Lab, Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, Arizona State University (USA)

Guenther Goerz
Professor emeritus of AI, University of Erlangen-Nuremberg (Germany)

Sadia Gondal
Assistant professor of humanities, social sciences and modern languages, University of Engineering and Technology (Pakistan)

Erhardt Graeff
Assistant professor of social and computer science, Olin College of Engineering (USA)

Anna Griffith
Assistant professor, School of Creative Arts, University of the Fraser Valley (Canada)

Katherine Gürtler
Professor, intercultural communication and English, Regensburg University of Applied Sciences (Germany)

Alexander Halavais
Associate professor, School of Social and Behavioral Sciences, Arizona State University (USA)

Masayuki Hatta
Associate professor of economics and management, Surugadai University (Japan)

Kristen Hawley Turner
Professor and chair of education, Drew University (USA)

Rasmus Helles
Associate professor of communication, University of Copenhagen (Denmark)

Michael Hoechsmann
Professor of education, Lakehead University, Orillia (Canada)

Stephen G. Humer
Professor and director, Internet Sociology Department, Fresenius University of Applied Sciences (Germany)

Klaus Bruhn Jensen
Professor of communication, University of Copenhagen (Denmark)

Paul Jones
Professor emeritus of information science, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (USA)

Steve Jones
Distinguished professor of communication, University of Illinois Chicago (USA)

Dennis-Kenji Kipker
Research director, Cyberintelligence Institute (Germany)

Friedrich Krotz
Professor, Centre for Media, Communication and Information (ZeMKI), University of Bremen (Germany)

Thorsten Lauterbach
Teaching excellence fellow, Robert Gordon University (UK)

Sonia Livingstone
Professor of media and communications, London School of Economics and Political Science (UK)

Pedro U. Lima
Professor, Instituto Superior Técnico, University of Lisbon (Portugal)

Benjamin Linder
Professor of design and mechanical engineering, Olin College of Engineering (USA)

Sam Lehman-Wilzig
Deputy Director, School of Communication, Bar-Ilan University (Israel)

MKP Madushanka
Lecturer in computer science, General Sir John Kotelawala Defence University (Sri Lanka)

Neelesh Maheshwari
Ph.D. candidate and researcher, South Asian University (India)

Robin Mansell
Professor emerita of new media and the internet; past IAMCR president, London School of Economics and Political Science (UK)

Annette N. Markham
Professor of media and communication and director, Digital Ethnography Research Centre, RMIT University (Australia)

Mies Martin
Assistant director, Grace Hauenstein Library, Aquinas College (USA)

Florian Martin-Bariteau
University research chair in technology and society; director, AI + society initiative; associate professor of law, University of Ottawa (Canada)

J. Patrick McGrail
Professor of communication, Jacksonville State University (USA)

Plamen Miltenoff
Scholarly communications librarian, University of Minnesota Duluth (USA)

Anja Mihr
DAAD associate professor, OSCE Academy in Bishkek; director, Center on Governance through Human Rights at the Berlin Governance Platform (Kyrgyzstan)

Shahab Mobasheri
ICT and new media researcher; former communication engineering faculty member, Islamic Azad University Jahrom (Iran)

Md Al Ifran Hossain Mollah
Senior lecturer in law, Independent University (Bangladesh)

Clarice Moran
Associate professor of English education, Appalachian State University (USA)

Hoda Mostafa
Director of the Center for Learning and Teaching, The American University in Cairo (Egypt)

Brady Nash
Assistant professor of English language arts, Miami University (USA)

Abdelhamid Nfissi
Professor of media linguistics and translation, founding member of UNESCO International University, Sidi Mohamed Ben Abdellah University (Morocco)

Beth Simone Noveck
Professor and director, The Burnes Center for Social Change, Northeastern University (USA)

Bethany Nowviskie
Dean of libraries, professor of English and chief academic technology officer, James Madison University (USA)

W. Ian O’Byrne
Associate professor of literacy education, College of Charleston (USA)

Reid Oechslin
Director of Instructional Technology, Mary Baldwin University (USA)

Vandy Pacetti-Donelson
Dean of Undergraduate Studies, United States Sports Academy (USA)

Claudia Padovani
Associate professor of political science and international relations, University of Padova (Italy)

Sonia Parratt Fernández
Professor of journalism and global communication, Complutense University of Madrid (Spain)

Amy Piotrowski
Associate professor of English education, Utah State University (USA)

Mathieu Plourde
Instructional designer and innovation advisor, Université Laval (Canada)

Stuart Poyntz
Professor and director, School of Communication, Simon Fraser University (Canada)

Edson Prestes
Professor and head of the robotics research group, Informatics Institute at Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul (Brazil)

Tony Quek
Professor and head of Information Systems Technology and Design Pillar, Singapore University of Technology and Design (Singapore)

Siva Prasad Rambhatia
Honorary professor, Centre for Digital Learning, Training and Resources (ret.), University of Hyderabad (India)

Catherine Régis
Chair of the Human-Centered AI+ lab (HAICU) for the U7+ alliance; professor of law, University of Montreal (Canada)

Nelson Costa Ribeiro
Associate professor of communication studies, Catholic University of Portugal

Mary Rice
Associate professor of literacy, University of New Mexico (USA)

Luis Germán Rodriguez Leal
Professor and researcher, Universidad Central de Venezuela

Frantz Rowe
University professor of social sciences; Nantes Université and Institut Universitaire de France

Thomas Salmon
Doctoral student and researcher, Institute of Social and Economic Research, Rhodes University (South Africa)

Liliana Ibeth Barbosa Santillan
Researcher, University of Guadalajara (Mexico)

Marika Sikharulidze
Affiliated professor, Business and Technology University and Ilia State University (Georgia)

Marçal Sintes Olivella
Professor of journalism and corporate communication, Ramon Llull University (Spain)

Philippa Karen Smith
Deputy director, Toroa Centre for Communication Research, Auckland University of Technology (New Zealand)

Jennifer Stromer-Galley
Professor of information studies and senior associate dean, Syracuse University; former president, Association of Internet Researchers (USA)

Tarkus Suganda
Professor and head of the laboratory of phytopathology, Padjadjaran University (Indonesia)

Md Saimum Reza Talukder
Senior lecturer in law, BRAC University (Bangladesh)

Evelyn Tauchnitz
Senior researcher, Institute of Social Ethics, University of Lucerne; research associate, Centre for Technology and Global Affairs, University of Oxford (Switzerland)

Jaak Tepandi
Professor emeritus of knowledge-based systems, Tallinn University of Technology (Estonia)

John Tingerthal
Professor, Civil Engineering, Construction Management & Environmental Engineering, Northern Arizona University (USA)

Ivan Trojan
Professor and dean of humanities and social sciences, University of Osijek (Croatia)

Zartash Afzal Uzmi
Professor of computer science and engineering, Lahore University of Management Sciences (Pakistan)

Kaisa Väänäne
Professor of human-technology interaction, Tampere University (Finland)

Genoveva Vargas-Solar
Principal scientist, French Council of Scientific Research (CNRS); Database group, Laboratory on Informatics on Image and Information Systems (LIRIS) (France)

Stefaan Verhulst
Co-founder, The GovLab and The Data Tank; research professor, Tandon School of Engineering, New York University (USA)

Eduardo Enrique Villanueva-Mansilla
Professor of communications, Pontifical Catholic University of Peru

Kutoma Wakunuma
Associate professor of information systems, De Montfort University (UK)

Steven Weber
Vice provost of undergraduate curriculum and education, Drexel University (USA)

Deirdre Williams
Internet governance consultant, Sir Arthur Lewis Community College (ret.) (Saint Lucia)

Allison Wylde
Assistant professor, Data Science for Common Good Research Group, Glasgow Caledonian University (UK)

Carl A. Young
Associate professor, English education, North Carolina State University (USA)

Michael Zimmer
Director of the Center for Data, Ethics, and Society, Marquette University (USA)

Other supporters of the statement

Akah Harvey
Former director of engineering for Seven Advanced Academy in Cameroon; tech innovator (Rwanda)

Laura Hilliger
Director, We Are Open Cooperative (Germany)

Olivia Jifcovici
Fine arts painter, Bucharest (Romania)

Billy Liggett
Director of News & Publications, Campbell University (USA)

Erin Martin
Undergraduate student in computer science, Elon University (USA)

Christa Morrison
Business Systems Specialist, McMaster University (Canada)

Viphou Ol
Student, International School of Phnom Penh (Cambodia)

Florin Nastase
Undergraduate student, Mary Baldwin University (USA)

Hawi Rapudo
Team lead, Kijiji Yeetu (Kenya)

Chenda Thong
Chairman, Telecommunication Regulator of Cambodia

Add your signature to the statement

Demonstrate your support for this statement on higher education and AI by adding your name to the list of signatories. If you believe your signature has been added in error or have other concerns, please contact us at imagine@elon.edu.)