Ruopeng An Showcases the Power of AI to the St. Louis Community

Community Engagement; Faculty; Research

A Brown School professor is joining forces with St. Louis community leaders to teach the rudiments of Artificial Intelligence to a wide array of local audiences with a variety of interests. He discovered just how varied the appetite for AI is when a dozen students from the Missouri School for the Blind showed up to participate in a session he led at a branch of the St. Louis Public Library on creating art with AI.

“They were absolutely amazing,” said the associate professor, Ruopeng An. “After the lecture, they practiced on the computer. The AI system generated artwork that was a reflection of themselves.”

The event, recently released on video, attracted 29 participants from around the St. Louis area, with more sessions to come, according to An, as part of the school’s Open Classroom, Artificial Intelligence Applications for Health Data Adult Learning Certificate (ALC), and the Artificial Intelligence and Big Data Analytics for Public Health (AIBDA) certificate program. The idea was sparked by Sarah Sims, assistant director of Professional Development, whose husband is on staff at the St. Louis Library. An was approached to offer local training, and brought his students to the library to help.

The event gave people their first taste of AI.  “They had heard of it, but never experienced the power of AI for themselves,” An said.  He said creating art was a great way to showcase that power, and suitable for students of all ages – more than half were under 18. The lecture provided guidance on how to write “prompts” for AI to use. The students generated artworks printed at the library and mailed home.

In addition to the library events, An plans to offer training sessions to non-profit organizations in the St. Louis area through Delmar DivINe.  He will offer an AI workshop in April at the St. Louis Modern Chinese School for students and their parents.

Mary Meyer, manager of Digital Services for the St. Louis Public Library, said the November program at the Julia Davis branch was “a perfect space” for the workshop. The library offers digital maker spaces that focus on creativity and bringing together community resources. “We’ve seen a huge use of these resources,” she said. “The AI workshop was really engaging, everyone was excited to create something, and our staff had so much fun seeing what people were creating. We would definitely hope to host another AI event in the future.” 

One participant was Rachel Tang, a high school senior who’ll be attending Washington University in the fall. She plans to major in environmental analysis, but has a side interest in art. “I thought it would be a good introduction to AI,” she said. “It was really interesting to see how you can use words to come up with an art piece.  It really opened up a new door for my art hobby.”