Professor teaching a class of students about AI technology.
Story STEM

AI for Social Good: Equipping the Next Generation of AI Innovators

Janessa Thropay

Students from diverse disciplines and backgrounds explore the pros and cons of artificial intelligence through the lens of social issues in their communities.

Professor teaching a class of students about AI technology.

Photo​ courtesy of San José State/Robert Bain


The California State University​ strives to provide students with the tools and resources to best prepare them for life after college. Through hands-on experience with the latest advancements in emerging technologies, CSU graduates gain valuable insight to elevate their competitiveness for jobs in California's robust workforce.

Artificial intelligence (AI) is the technology in software that allows it to learn through experience. It is increasingly being implemented into more areas of society making it crucial for students to be equipped with the necessary skills to be active navigators of the technology. ​

The AI for Social Good (AI4SG) project, started in 2018 at San José State, engages undergraduate students from diverse disciplines in AI education. Through a curriculum that can be added to courses involving emergent technology, students learn the technical aspects of AI through a humanistic and ethical lens that cultivates culturally and socially responsive innovators.​​

​Currently at three CSU campusesCal Poly Pomona, Cal State San Bernardino, and SJSU​more than 1,000 undergraduate students have participated in the project's curriculum to date. Featuring three learning modules, the curriculum captures the unique perspectives and expertise of four diverse CSU faculty members who contributed to its development. Each faculty member represents a different university and discipline.

Still in its first year as a National Science Foundation (NSF)-funded project, AI4SG has been incorporated into five different courses across three​ disciplines: management information systems, geography and computer science.

In line with the project's name, AI4SG's curriculum includes a sociological component that requires students to propose or develop an AI-powered solution to an issue they recognize​ in their communities. Student teams at each campus work together to identify a problem, prototype a solution​ and bring that solution to life using AI technology.

“AI4SG aims to expose youth to the promise of AI in generating solutions to social problems and its importance in tomorrow's STEM workforce," says Frank Gomez, AI4SG team member, executive director of STEM-NET at the CSU Chancellor's Office and professor of chemistry at Cal State LA​.

Promoting diversity and equity in the AI field is a key priority of AI4SG. Students from all disciplines and backgrounds are encouraged to participate in the project, establishing an equal playing field for those who are not STEM majors.

Students work on a developing an AI-powered solution to an issue in their communities. Photo​ courtesy of San José State/Robert Bain

“This project gives any student the opportunity to see their potential and ability to innovate and problem solve," says Yu Chen, principal investigator of​ the AI4SG project and an assistant professor in the SJSU School of Information Systems and Technology.

By emphasizing inclusivity and collaboration, students receive a more comprehensive learning experience that results in a higher level of AI literacy.

This May marked the first CSU AI for Social Good Student Innovation Showcase where teams had the opportunity to present their AI-solutions on a public stage. Nine student ideas were featured during the online presentation, each using the technology of an AI chatbot to address issues like recycling, accessing clean drinking water and protecting the personal information of the elderly.

One prototype by a team at Cal Poly Pomona, “Zero Hunger," introduced an AI chatbot called “MMEE" designed to provide users easier access to nearby food resources and assistance in Riverside County. Information involving local food banks, food pantries​ and community programs were coded into MMEE's software, allowing it the ability to both inquire about and select the best option to meet the needs of the user.

Each team's presentation featured an in-depth analysis of the potential harmful outcomes associated with their AI-powered solution. By evaluating the pros and the cons of their creations, students are taught to analyze the impact of AI technology to gain a more accurate understanding of its capabilities.

When dealing with AI or any emergent technology, it's integral to discuss the negative implications if it were to be used incorrectly or maliciously. AI4SG prioritizes equipping students with ethical guardrails that will help guide them once​ they step into their careers. As the technology continues to develop, the project anticipates making AI ethics a greater focal point in future learning modules.

“It is important for people to understand the future ramifications of this technology and to ensure social justice and equity concerns are addressed," Gomez says.

AI4SG plans to scale this work across California, with the long-term goal of implementation at all 23 universities in the CSU system and in the PK-12 educational space. By doing so, this project has the potential to build university-community-industry ecosystems that cultivate innovation, competency, diversity and cultural responsivity in California's STEM and AI workforce. Additionally, AI4SG paves the way for CSU students and faculty to contribute to healthier and more equitable communities through collaboration and AI innovation. ​

To learn more about how AI for Social Good is educating and preparing students for the ever-changing workforce, visit the AI4SG website.​

​​Students collaborate to identify an issue in their community they are able to solve using AI technology.

Photo​ courtesy of San José State/Robert Bain