Key Quotes from the PBS Hawaii AI Panel

Last week’s 90-minute live broadcast town hall on PBS Hawaii explored the rapid rise of artificial intelligence and its far-reaching implications for Hawaii and beyond. Eleven local experts in technology, education, indigenous knowledge, law and more weighed the potential benefits and risks of AI for fields like education, jobs, creativity and culture.

While most panelists saw AI’s continued development as inevitable, they emphasized the urgent need to instill critical thinking alongside technical literacy, build diversity and transparency into AI systems, and direct the technology’s power toward abundance and social good rather than displacement and deception.

Here are select insights from each participant.

Kamuela Enos, Director of the University of Hawaiʻi Office of Indigenous Knowledge & Innovation:

  • “So much of AI as it’s understood can be extractive. The project we’re a part of is a multi-national conglomerate of indigenous people putting together a use case for AI. Not necessarily vouching for it, but understanding that it is ubiquitous.”
  • “If you identify what you want your AI to optimize for, and give it clear parameters—the ethics and the outcomes—if you’re having those conversations, then we can design towards those ends.”

Ryley Higa, Senior Machine Learning Engineer, Sumo Logic:

  • “There’s kind of a science fiction version of AI, which is artificial general intelligence. Artificial General Intelligence is basically an AI system that could do the tasks that a human can do.”
  • “I want people to be cautiously optimistic about AI. I don’t necessarily want people to either embrace it wholly, or fear it wholly—I want people to have a balance of opinions.”

Deborah Morita, Hawaii Technology Academy Teacher:

  • “Part of the problem when a new technology comes along for education is that you’re dealing with one of our most vulnerable populations. You’re dealing with our youth, our next generation. And this obviously is going to be a part of their lives. It’s up to the educators to figure out how we’re going to train and teach the students to use it and use it appropriately.”
  • “I don’t use it in my classroom, I don’t use it for classroom assignments, but I have been training my students to use AI. As a digital media/creative media teacher and talking about the arts that we’ve been talking about, I still want the creativity, I still want the critical thinking skills.”

Al Ogata, Chief Executive Officer, CyberHawaii:

  • “Clearly, any technology can be used for good or bad. And with AI, what we see is the potential to enhance scams that have been going on for a long time. Deepfakes are just one of them. But impersonation really is the bottom line—somebody is trying to impersonate somebody else for either financial gain or, or for love.”
  • “It’s not necessarily that AI itself should be legal or illegal. It’s still the basic act of what you’re doing. If using AI to commit an existing crime is wrong, then I think you should codify that in a law, you should put that in there and say, if you use AI to do something—just like if you use a gun to commit a crime—there may be enhanced penalties for doing that.”

David Pickett, Software Engineer, Purple Maiʻa Foundation:

  • “As to the question of transcendence, I think that’s a little bit too far out to know. But in the short term before that, I think we’ll it’ll be a lot of humans being augmented by AI.”
  • “The more people that get it—get what is possible with AI, both in terms of you using it yourself and the outputs—I think the better, because people will hopefully get fooled less easily, will have more critical thinking if they realize what’s what’s possible. I think that’s the ideal goal, that we use computers and tools to make ourselves better and more fulfilled.”

Scott Robertson, Professor and Chair, UH Information and Computer Sciences Department:

  • “The thing to fear and to kind of plan against is people’s intentions when they use this, as with any technology.”
  • “I think AI can have an impact on multiple kinds of disabilities. Maybe first thing to think about with AI would be cognitive disabilities. To help with memory, you could imagine an AI companion that helps you remember things, day to day things, or helps you remember things from the past that you may have forgotten, that would bring you joy to remember if only you could bring them up in your own head.”

Liya Safina, Digital Designer:

  • “AI as it is right now is truly a mirror that’s been held up to us. It doesn’t produce anything new. It only synthesizes information based on the databases that he was trained on.”
  • “When you have an AI tool, you can just take your idea, and really quickly prototype it. It might not be perfect, but at least your idea is now not just a thought in your head. It’s something tangible, that you can show to people and have them instantly connect to it.”

Samantha Sneed, Director and Attorney, ES&A Law Corporation:

  • “AI is a tool by humans for humans. And right now we’re at the stage where the technology is accessible, it is learnable by everyone. But if we cede that ground—if we leave the thinking of how to develop particular AI tools to others, if we don’t engage in that—we’re letting others decide how we should be utilizing a very powerful, powerful technology.”
  • “What AI is really good at doing is helping us figure out and refine our processes, but it can’t provide us a purpose. And it goes all the way back to our original question about what we think about our own existence. We create our own purpose, AI is not going to give us that.”

Clara Steele, Hilo High School Student:

  • “There definitely needs to be a balance. I agree with the sentiment that I think most people have shared here on the panel today that it’s not so much AI itself. It’s the people that use it and how they use it.”
  • “It’s obviously a tool to be used. And it’s a tool that has expanded so much, within just the last few years—there’s nothing we can do to get rid of it or stop its use, especially in my younger generation that’s so used to technology. So it’s something that I feel like we have no choice but to embrace.”

Sean Watase, BlockStudio3 Founder:

  • “The amount of time that we save clients and businesses—time that they had to personally put in themselves to do things like accounting or generate content—now they can focus that time elsewhere. And I think that’s a big power of this technology, it can help and improve in areas.”
  • “If everyone started using AI, everything would look the same. And I work with a lot of businesses and marketing and advertising and the idea behind marketing is to make your stuff stick out. And a lot of times it’s being able to add that personal touch—that little bit of something else to the art or the video that you generated—that showcases your personality.”

Ryan Ozawa, Journalist and Technologist:

  • “Open AI—the biggest company we’re talking about that dominates the space—started as a nonprofit with the goal of making humanity better. But as we saw with the attempted coup with the CEO, the commercial viability of open AI is way too powerful for them to just give it all away.”
  • “I’m sorry, Scott, but we’re not going to be teaching every kid to program, because now AI can do that. I think the required class should be debate. It comes down to trust. It comes down to authenticity.”