Dec 20, 2019

AUSTIN, Texas. — The last decade saw the emergence of artificial intelligence (AI) or intelligent machines that are designed to think and learn like humans. AI has already taken shape in our daily lives, from facial recognition to commercial flights using AI autopilot and ridesharing apps.

These early AI advancements have also spurred discussions around issues of ethics and human biases.

Those issues intrigue Andrea Holgado, professor of Biological Sciences, who is preparing students to contribute to the development of artificial intelligence and other next generation technologies in a way that reflects the diversity of society.   

Holgado spearheads the Institute for Interdisciplinary Science, known as i4, which is a National Science Foundation-funded program aimed at preparing more minorities for STEM careers. The program, which is housed at St. Edward’s, funds internships and learning opportunities for students and faculty in Austin and across the country.

As we embark on a new decade, St. Edward’s asked Holgado about i4, AI advancements in her field and what she’s looking forward to in 2020.  


What was the most thought-provoking idea, event or advancement in your field last year?

Personally, the most thought-provoking ideas in my field were voiced at the Society for Neuroscience Series: Dialogues between Neuroscience and Society. At this event, Dr. Fei-Fei Li, Co-Director of Stanford University's Human-Centered Artificial Intelligence (AI) Institute and the Stanford Vision and Learning Lab, described the long and entangled history between the fields of Neuroscience and AI, and the challenges to come. To illustrate this point, she presented how the field of computer vision has benefited from neuroscience as this latter field discovered the underlying mechanisms for object and face recognition in humans. However, as AI applied these discoveries and developed machine learning algorithms for face recognition, scientists and engineers of color immediately realized that these algorithms contained the same biases as the human programmers creating the technology. Thus, as a minority myself, I would like to contribute to the development of these emerging technologies and train diverse groups of students to enter the fast-changing STEM workforce.

What are you keeping an eye on in 2020?

I am particularly intrigued by the fact that AI is creating algorithms and solutions that are essentially modeling the human brain with its sensory, computational, cognitive and emotional abilities. I am interested in following and perhaps contributing to the analysis of the social impact of AI.

What is i4 and how are you helping train students for AI and other 4th generation technologies?

The institute for interdisciplinary science, i4, is an initiative funded by the National Science Foundation that prepares students for the 4th industrial revolution, also known as the technological revolution that will change the way we live, work and interact with the physical world. The 4th industrial revolution involves AI, 3D printing and design, the Internet of Things (IoT), genetic engineering, quantum computing, and many other emerging technologies. The i4 institute is preparing students and faculty for the 4th industrial revolution by developing cross-sector partnerships with industry, and supporting professional development of students and faculty in STEM emerging technologies.

So far, six i4 interns were trained at partners' sites, four interns are majoring in Computer Science and two in Mathematics. These interns worked for eight weeks at one of these companies: VMWare, Kapsch, NEON, and the Nature Conservancy. 

Additionally, four students received tuition awards that allowed them to get certifications in Software Architecture for the Internet of Things, IBM Data Science, Texas Advanced Computing Center: Essentials of Advance Computing, and Rice Data Science Bootcamp.

Lastly, four faculty and five students were awarded a Professional Development Grant (PDG) to expand their training in statistics and data science by participating in the University of Texas Summer Statistics Institute. Additionally, a fifth faculty received a PDG for professional development at the Geospatial and Remote Sensing Services Division of the US Forest Service.

For more information on i4, please visit: