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Chico State

The Growing Pains of AI: Professor to study how tools like ChatGPT affect children

Abbas Attarwala, who was awarded a $30,000 grant this summer to research the impacts of AI on children, is photographed at his desk while he is typing on a laptop.
(Matt Bates / University Photographer)

What is the impact of AI on kids?

Tools like CHATGPT and virtual learning assistants have provided plenty of fodder for people to debate—in schools, around the dinner table, and at parent groups.

Chico State professor Abbas Attarwala wants to help answer this question. The Center of California Studies at Sacramento State awarded Attarwala a $30,000 grant this summer to provide much-needed background on the current research landscape of AI and its impact on children.

Children are vulnerable, the computer science professor said. In his initial research, he found literature that talked about how children who regularly interact with Alexa or Siri can learn to trust these devices completely.

Attarwala will primarily look at what research has been done and synthesize his findings to speak meaningfully about the impact of AI on children’s privacy, education, social development, and even things like misinformation and discrimination within the AI models.

“The intent is to look at areas where AI is impacting children, and more importantly, to look at areas where more research might be needed,” he said. “Upon completing my research, I will offer insights and recommendations that may guide policymakers in California in formulating new policies on AI’s impact on children.”

Attarwala, who has hired a graduate student as a research assistant, said the project will take eight months to complete and he expects to present his findings in February 2024.

“AI has become so ubiquitous, and holds immense potential to influence children’s learning,” he said. “This research can have a big impact on how we can give AI tools, like ChatGPT, a proper direction that can be beneficial for everyone involved, rather than allowing it to go unchecked in many ways that can cause harm.”

Attarwala earned his undergraduate degree in computer engineering from the University of Waterloo. He holds three master’s degrees: one in computer science from the Georgia Institute of Technology, another in applied computing from the University of Toronto, and a third in management science from the University of Waterloo. He also holds a PhD in management science from the University of Waterloo. Before arriving at Chico State in 2022, Attarwala was a faculty in the department of computer science at Boston University. Attarwala was the recipient of Chico State’s International Wildcat Outstanding Faculty Award for the 2022–23 academic year.