The Real Impacts of Artificial Intelligence

As a policy researcher at OpenAI, Lama Ahmad, Class of 2019, is working on one of the most fundamental questions of a generation: How does artificial intelligence impact human society?

NYUAD: How are you contributing to better understanding AI’s impact?

My work at OpenAI involves creating and collaborating on research to help generate evidence around issues with AI and its impact - both good and bad. I engage with academic researchers, policymakers, and civil society organizations to understand how AI impacts people. One of the efforts I’m leading is called our external red-teaming program. It is a method for involving different groups to help us assess the risks of a system before releasing it to the world.


NYUAD: What’s your day-to-day like? What skills do you apply regularly?

As a researcher, I design and develop the questions we need to ask and how we will answer them. What data do we need to get, how do we get it, and how do we design studies? I also manage large-scale programs with stakeholders, which means finding the right people who need to be in the room to discuss a given problem, whether it's policymakers or academic researchers. I’m also doing a lot of blog writing and content publishing in different formats to make my research as accessible as possible.

NYUAD: What do you see as the biggest opportunities and threats with AI?

The Internet was a significant technological paradigm shift, and AI will do even more to make information accessible. I am excited about the applications in education and opportunities for equity and access. It will be life-changing for a lot of people. Something I worry about is job automation. We’re seeing glimmers of how that could happen as these systems become more capable. Some of our research is geared toward understanding the economic impact of AI and what policies we need to make as a society to support people’s jobs.

NYUAD: Did you anticipate your career path unfolding this way?

I checked the box of my dream job early (laughs)! Sometimes it feels like it’s not real. I got lucky to be in the right place at the right time. Still, I think I had a role in creating the conditions for it by thinking about the issues that affect my community and how I can use my education to provide a unique perspective. I have always cared about how tech impacts people.

NYUAD: How did NYUAD contribute to your current position and perspective?

Combining social science and technology created the conditions for me to be an authoritative voice and shape how these issues are discussed. I took the Politics of Code class in my sophomore year, which changed my trajectory. It got me thinking about biases in AI models and the political impact of social media. All the readings were about issues that I'm working on day-to-day now. 

I also took a lot of foundational social science research courses that helped me develop rigorous methods. I took data analysis and computer science courses with the technical skillset to look at data and use it in my research. In a way, I have the perfect formula: four years of coursework that genuinely laid the foundation for everything I’m doing now.