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Keeping an Eye on AI

Oleg Evdokimov uses the lessons he learned from the MPD2 program to teach the pros and cons of artificial intelligence to Northwestern students — and his children.

Oleg Evdokimov (MPD2 ‘17) is like many parents today – trying to do what’s best for his 10- and 7-year-old children in an era of Instagram, YouTube, Snapchat, and Netflix.  

Because of his education in Northwestern Engineering's Master of Product Design and Development Management (MPD2) program and his work in tech, Evdokimov finds himself in an interesting position as he sees the true depths of how artificial intelligence (AI) is shaping our children’s reality.  Oleg Evdokimov

Evdokimov is a group product design manager at the legal technology company Relativity. He also is teaching two courses in Northwestern Engineering’s Master of Science in Artificial Intelligence (MSAI) program, one on the science of human-computer interactions and the other on the emerging risks and ethical conundrums evolving from those interactions.  

Those conundrums are vast and growing, Evdokimov said.  

“There’s this new way of us interacting with computers and the computers gaining their own agency over time,” he said. “Through just a simple observation of my children, I recognized how AI and algorithms are powering pretty much all of the common modern-day applications we use and how effective they are at removing our agency.”  

Evdokimov sees the dangers when he watches his own kids’ use of Netflix.  

“They open Netflix and I notice that they just basically look at the top line, which is the top five recommendations for them, and click on one of them,” he said. “So what I had to do was have a discussion with them to recommend they pause before they turn on Netflix and think about what they actually want to watch as opposed to being sucked into what’s being recommended.”  

Evdokimov leans on the central tenet of the MPD2 program – human-centered design – when he teaches his MSAI students, and his children, about these human-computer interaction issues. The principle is based on the belief that, to design the most useful products and services, product developers need to be intensely focused from the start on the end users and their pain points.  

The risks emerge, Evdokimov said, when companies see those pain points and provide products that might be profitable but are also causing harm to those who use them. This is not something affecting only children, he said. He points to the revenue-generating products of some of the most successful tech companies today – products like Instagram and Youtube, owned by Meta and Alphabet (Google), respectively – and ties their rise to shortened attention spans, increased political polarization, and the spread of misinformation.  

Human-centered design is an ethical framework to help combat this concern. When designers put the greater good of customers over profits and truly solve pain points instead of creating new and often worse versions of them, humanity benefits, Evdokimov said.  

That’s what Evdokimov is trying to teach his students – a true human-centered design approach he honed during his time in the MPD2 program.  

“When I was looking at different programs, the composition of the MPD2 program seemed the most fitting for my interests and goals,” he said. “There was this promise that the breadth of the subject matter gives you a seat at the table and understanding about what people are talking about, whether it’s a marketing meeting or a discussion about materials used in a project or a budgeting meeting.” 

That ability creates an environment where Evdokimov can help steer AI and human-computer interactions in a more positive direction, he said. 

“Through the MPD2 program, I learned a lot of techniques on how to apply the knowledge in the work setting,” he said. “It’s very interesting to see how people adapt to change and how, by tweaking certain feedback loops in the system, you can create lasting changes.”

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