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Featured Interview: Emily Wenger


Today we feature an interview with Emily Wenger. Emily is a fifth-year computer science PhD student at the University of Chicago and the lead editor of AI&Faith. She is a member of the SAND lab, advised by Drs. Ben Zhao and Heather Zheng. Emily is the recipient of the GFSD, Harvey, University of Chicago Neubauer, and University of Chicago Harper Dissertation fellowships, as well as a Siebel Scholarship. Emily’s award-winning research focuses on the practical limitations, privacy violations, and security threats of deep neural networks. As a fellow Christian and PhD in computer science at the University of Chicago, Emily and I have become quick friends on the editorial team.

How would you describe your experience with AI?

I am a Ph.D. student at the University of Chicago, where I research security and privacy issues of machine learning (AI) systems. Consequently, the past four years of my life have been defined by “up close” interactions with AI. I am deeply aware of the amazing potential and dangerous limitations of this technology.

How would you describe your faith background?

I am a Christ-follower. I grew up in a non-denominational evangelical church and now attend the amazing Living Hope Church in Woodlawn, Chicago.

What led to your interest in the intersection of AI and faith?

During my PhD, I’ve realized my technical work studying AI security is deeply tied to my faith. Some of my research received significant public attention that led to me being asked lots of questions about AI ethics. Unfortunately, I didn’t know much about AI ethics at the time, so I dove into learning. In the process, I realized that questions of ethics are inextricably tied to questions of worldview – and ultimately to questions of faith. Thus, I have sought out opportunities to engage with other people of faith who also think about AI. I want to learn from them and use their perspectives on ethics/AI/faith to refine my own.

Why are you involved with AI&F?

I wanted to be part of a faith-based community of people who understand AI and care deeply about its place in our world. I thought that being a part of AI&F would help nuance my thinking about my research and help me develop a richer, faith-based ethics framework. So far, I have enjoyed being involved with the organization and have made many wonderful connections. I have also gained new insight into the ethics questions that led me here in the first place.

How does AI&F affect your work outside the organization?

I am still figuring this out. My research is very technical, so I don’t really engage with issues of AI and faith on a day-to-day basis. I’d say that AI & Faith – and the people/questions it leads me to engage with – informs my meta-thinking about my research field and AI in general.

What open problems in AI are you most interested in?

So many! Since I am a security person, I am most interested in how and if advanced AI systems can be made safer. I want to understand (and mitigate) vulnerabilities that arise as we come to rely more heavily on this technology.


A big thanks to Emily Wenger for her time to carry out this interview.

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