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Determining a path forward for artificial intelligence in state government

by Melanie Moyer,

As artificial intelligence continues to reshape the public and private sectors, Justus Eaglesmith BA’21, MBA/MS’23, who was recently appointed as a Board Member of the State Government Artificial Intelligence Advisory Council, is one of the people leading the charge to ensure this new technology is implemented safely and ethically in the State of Oregon.

“My goal is to represent people who might not have access to knowledge about how they might be impacted by artificial intelligence,” he shares. “As someone educated about the topic, it’s important for me to recognize potential problems that may persist and speak up for those individuals.”

Before discussions about generative AI tools like Chat GPT boomed in the past year, Eaglesmith was learning about the application of machine learning while earning his Master’s in Data Ƶ at Willamette. Contributing Assistant Professor Hendrick Orem’s Applied Machine Learning course helped him discover AI’s powerful ability to identify insights and patterns humans might overlook, which inspired Eaglesmith to think more critically about its larger applications.

“I’m a big proponent of using statistics to combat misinformation,” the research scientist says. He is currently working with Associate Professor of Public Management and Policy Analysis Professor Tim Johnson on an upcoming research project. “Often, we look at what machine learning can do predictively, but it’s an incredible inferential tool as well.”

Eaglesmith believes knowledge about the technology, especially for those who may not otherwise be exposed to it, is crucial. “AI is simply society’s mirror. It’s math that exponentially replicates the data we feed it,” he says. This means that it can replicate society’s inequities and biases.

His education in data science, paired with a Willamette MBA, helps him approach this new position with both a human- and market-focused approach. Eaglesmith was introduced to Market Research in Introduction to Economics and Finance course with Associate Professor of Economics Jonathan Thompson BA'09, which shaped his data-informed decision-making. These experiences also prepared him for a role as a data scientist at Maps Credit Union and his new role as a data scientist working for the Native American Rehabilitation Association of the the Northwest.

As a Willamette undergraduate, Eaglesmith majored in economics, played , and was a member of Sigma Chi. Recently, he returned to campus to deliver his presentation, “AI is Society’s Mirror: We Need You in its Development,” at the WU TechDay Conference, encouraging people from all disciplines to engage with difficult questions raised by these powerful new tools.

“I’d like to see a large variety of people involved and more artificial intelligence organizations popping up for the betterment of society,” Eaglesmith says. “We need people in disciplines like the humanities and social sciences to be a part of the AI development process.”

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