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Makuu is Penn's cultural center for Black students. Credit: Hannah Lazar

Three Penn students founded Nexus, a club that encourages Black academics to explore the interdisciplinary studies of the mind and artificial intelligence. 

Through the creation of Nexus, College seniors Michael Konu and Razan Osman, and College sophomore Nwai Alfa — all cognitive science majors — said they hope to provide fellow cognitive science majors and those with interests in cognition with a new space for building community. 

Nexus’ inspiration stems in part from the small number of cognitive science-specific classes which inhibits the creation of a strong cognitive science community. Currently, cognitive science majors take courses across six disciplines: neuroscience, philosophy, language, psychology, computation, and math. 

While the interdisciplinary nature of the major is integral to its practice, Nexus’ founders found a lack of space for discussion with other cognitive science majors. 

“We cognitive science majors don’t have a space for us to integrate and interact with each other," Konu said. "Naturally, we feel very fragmented."

Konu said that creating a forum for conversation among cognitive science majors would take advantage of the interdisciplinary nature of the field, tying minds of different backgrounds together. 

“We don’t have a place where these discussions aren’t dominated by people with technical backgrounds,” Konu said. “We don’t want the discussion of AI alignment to be driven solely by people who have technical perspectives, because that’s a limited portion of what AI alignment is about.”

Alfa added that having a space for specifically Black cognitive science majors to come together is at the core of the club’s founding. He pointed to the fact that other majors at Penn have spaces for Black students, like Penn’s chapter of National Society of Black Engineers

“I personally was interested in making this club because I would be in a lot of classrooms where there wouldn’t be a lot of people of color,” Osman said. 

The club hopes to host speakers and foster discussion in partnership with other Penn groups to demonstrate how all people are affected by cognition. 

“My interests in entrepreneurship and AI all meeting in one place make me excited to keep working and building on Nexus,” Osman said.

On April 13, the club hosted a kickoff event in partnership with Penn Democrats, hosting 2019 College graduate Calvary Rogers, who works in AI ethics and product management at Google. Rogers is also an AI art creator, designing art with models he coded himself. 

“If done in the right way, [AI art] can expand productivity and create a new perspective on what human existence looks like, but if not done in the right way, it can be disruptive and exacerbate already existing inequalities,” Konu said. 

The discussion primarily focused on the development of ethical AI and how to ensure AI is aligned with most equitable and democratic processes. 

The event was “an opportunity for community building and for people from different disciplines to interact with each other,” Konu said. 

In the future, Nexus hopes to host speakers and clubs that can foster important questions about the use of AI in medicine and business.

“Something I hope for the future is that Nexus can educate [people] about what cognition is. I think a lot of people can find interest in at least one part of it.” Osman said. 

The club also is looking to bring students together to create AI products and teach others about how they can maximize AI through their Nexus Labs initiative. 

“With faculty support, we hope to create Nexus labs as a community for other people interested in start-ups within AI to connect and create products with one another,' Alfa said.

Before the semester ends, Nexus hopes to host a session where club leaders teach peers how to use ChatGPT to study for finals and compile notes into study guides.