Q&A: AI and Its Implications
Professor Harsha Abeykoon earned his undergraduate degree in electrical engineering from the University of Moratuwa, Sri Lanka, and his master’s degree in mobile robotics from Keio University, Japan.
He subsequently obtained his PhD from Keio University, specializing in surgical robotics. Prior to joining Plymouth State University, he held the position of senior lecturer in the Department of Electrical Engineering at the University of Moratuwa.

Plymouth Magazine recently caught up with him to discuss the AI and its implications.

Q&A typography
Plymouth Magazine: How does PSU develop AI-literate students?

Harsha Abeykoon: Plymouth State University develops AI-literate students through a multifaceted approach. First and foremost, we introduce students to practical and readily available AI tools that are being used across various domains. Students learn to harness these technologies to their advantage, enhancing their efficiency and productivity through skills that are valued in the workforce. Yet our focus extends beyond usage; we aim to spark curiosity, encouraging active engagement with AI. By nurturing their curiosity and encouraging exploration, students see themselves as active participants in the world of AI, not just passive users. Lastly, we prioritize understanding the “why” and “how” of AI, exploring the underlying principles, algorithms, and methodologies that drive AI. This three-step process equips students for success and empowers them to responsibly contribute to AI’s future developments and applications.

Plymouth Magazine: What’s a common misconception that most people have about AI?

Harsha Abeykoon: A common misconception that many people have about AI is that it possesses human-like intelligence and understanding. This is often fueled by depictions of AI in popular culture, where AI systems are portrayed as beings with emotions, consciousness, and the ability to think and reason like humans.

In reality, AI lacks the inherent judgment, intuition, and contextual understanding that humans possess. It only operates within the parameters of the data it has been provided and the algorithms it follows. AI systems excel at identifying and learning patterns from data, which forms the basis of their ‘intelligence.’ Therefore, it’s crucial to remember that AI’s capabilities are constrained by the quality and nature of the data they are trained on.

Plymouth Magazine: What role does AI have in helping the world solve wicked problems?

Harsha Abeykoon: AI plays a transformative role in tackling the world’s most intricate and persistent challenges which defy simple solutions and demand innovative approaches. Here’s how AI actively contributes:

  • Pattern Recognition and Security: AI’s ability to swiftly recognize intricate patterns enables the rapid detection of anomalies in domains such as cybersecurity and public safety, ensuring proactive responses to potential threats.
  • Predictive Analysis: By analyzing historical data, AI can forecast future events with remarkable accuracy, providing crucial support for disaster preparedness, agricultural planning, and climate change mitigation.
  • Efficiency and Optimization: Whether it’s suggesting the most efficient travel routes or enhancing crop yields, AI-driven recommendations optimize and streamline processes, resulting in more effective resource utilization.
  • Natural Language Processing (NLP): NLP enables AI to understand and process human language effectively—an essential element for addressing the societal dimensions of wicked problems. AI can analyze public sentiment, extract insights from vast textual data, and improve communication.
  • Personalization: In fields like healthcare and education, customizing solutions to individual needs enhances problem-solving.
  • Early Warning Systems: AI plays a pivotal role in detecting and monitoring disease outbreaks, predicting natural disasters, and identifying cybersecurity threats.
Harsha Abeykoon in suit leaning on white couch
Matt Rudzinski ’22, ’24MBA photo.
Plymouth Magazine: What AI developments are you most interested in?

Harsha Abeykoon: I’ve successfully utilized AI to recreate virtual haptic objects, and I’ve contributed to the development of a system capable of identifying individuals based solely on their unique walking gait patterns. Currently, I’m engaged in a project that involves analyzing how an ant’s locomotion compares to a machine-generated walking pattern using reinforcement learning techniques.

Another development that particularly fascinates me is ChatGPT. I’ve been conducting ongoing experiments with it, and I believe its capabilities and boundaries are still to be discovered.

Plymouth Magazine: In what ways will new graduates benefit from learning about AI as they enter the workforce?

Harsha Abeykoon: Embracing AI technology is a strategic move to stay competitive and ahead of the curve. Today, we can broadly categorize individuals into AI users and AI developers. AI is reshaping the job market, creating new opportunities while presenting challenges to some professions.

By understanding AI principles, graduates can harness its potential to enhance their productivity and problem-solving skills, regardless of their field. AI can automate repetitive tasks, analyze data more efficiently, and offer valuable insights, making graduates more effective contributors in various roles. AI literacy is not just about knowing the technology; it’s about adapting to change, continuously updating skills, and embracing the opportunities AI brings. New graduates who embrace AI as a tool for growth and innovation will be well-positioned to succeed. ■ Kayleigh Bennett ’18