Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
Watch Live

Science & Technology

SDSU has a new home for research into artificial intelligence

The James Silberrad Brown Center for Artificial Intelligence has created a new home for AI research at San Diego State. The center’s director said it will bring together studies that have been going on at SDSU since the field was called “big data” in the past decade.

“We were working in this field of research that was multidisciplinary. Statistics, machine learning and engineering coming together. But we didn’t have a good name for it," said center director Aaron Elkins. “AI has become the brand of it now.”

Elkins is a professor of management information systems who said SDSU’s brand of artificial intelligence relies on cameras and sensors that can create a data set, based on the environment it’s in. He added that it’s kind of the opposite of things like ChatGPT, a computer-based AI system that gets and analyzes data that’s passively collected from the internet.


“They just go onto the web and grab pictures and grab websites,” Elkins said. “Wikipedia is just dumped into it and it’s learned from. Which is awesome. But we work on the kind of problems you can’t get any other way than getting into the environment and capturing those data."

Elkins said he and his colleagues have done a lot of their artificial intelligence work for the Department of Defense and Homeland Security. One system, operated through virtual reality headgear, allows sailors on a Navy ship to focus on a ship mechanism that isn't working and fix it.

A border enforcement system uses that same concept of artificial intelligence interacting with the environment. In this case, it’s done to assess potential security risks. Elkins points to a robot, with a human-like face shown on a screen, that can interview someone who wants to cross a border.

“It talks to you. It's engaging you in dialogue like Alexa does, but at the same time the sensors are measuring your behavior and it’s kind of assessing the interview for a decision to pass it along to another human for an intervention, or to clear you,” Elkins said.

The SDSU AI center isn’t just Elkins, of course, it’s also students.


One spoke of her work on what she called a big-data project, in partnership with Baylor University. It used artificial intelligence to analyze factors and patterns that could explain why some kids had bipolar disorder.

“To find relationships with (the kids’) comorbidities, past health history, their medication. That kind of thing,” said Karenina Zaballa, lead of student research at the AI center.

And Saul Garcia has spent some time with the center's mascot, a white, 3-foot tall robot named Pepper. Garcia is using the technology of ChatGPT to make Pepper a robot you can have a conversation with.

With ChatGPT the responses are very natural. They don’t seem robotic at all. So people will be more comfortable sharing information with Pepper,” Garcia said.

Related Podcast