Inside one of their classrooms at BASIS Charter School in Oro Valley, a trio of 11th-grade students asked the people in their lives: “What do you think about when you hear the phrase ‘A.I.’ (artificial intelligence)?”

Emilia Kim, one of the three young documentary filmmakers, said that included their teachers, fellow students, and even people they found out on the street. “(They) maybe don’t have a technical knowledge of A.I., but (they’re) still invested in the future,” Kim said.

Kim and her classmates Tanish Doshi and Allison Kuester know a thing or two about what technology like Chat GPT can, and still cannot, do. “You can tell just by the way it talks and the way it structures its sentences,” Kuester said. “When you lose the person behind the writing, you almost lost the character of the writing itself.”

They would know about writing, too, since all three report for the school’s newspaper. As freshmen, the filmmakers got their first taste of making short documentaries through C-SPAN’s national ‘Student-Cam’ competition. For this project, Kuester, Kim and Doshi each put in hours into researching and reaching out to people to talk on camera about the role A.I. could play in their lives.

“Because we went through it in the first documentary,” Kuester said, “we knew how hard it was going to be getting people to say, ‘Yes.'” “I was expecting a lot of people to shut us down,” Kim said. “We were really lucky, in that the Oro Valley community, the Tucson community was really open with it.”

We asked the trio what questions they want answered or addressed when they spoke to experts who follow A.I. Doshi said it could be boiled down to three key inquiries: “Where’s it going to influence? Is it going to be a net positive or net negative? And what legislative/regulatory action should we take?” Doshi said.

One of the core points the filmmakers want viewers to take away from their six-minute documentary ‘Artificial America’ is that small communities and schools have a role to play when it comes to educating people about artificial intelligence’s benefits and pitfalls.

Kuester said, surprisingly, most neighbors and regular people they talked to are curiously optimistic.

“It wasn’t a fear that was driving them,” she said. “It was almost a fear of the change, and I think a lot of people were willing to look towards the future with A.I.”

Another core point was something Doshi brought up in this interview. He said he and his partners think it will be curious to see how governments balance an ethical code to regulate A.I., with tech firms who will push lawmakers to let the companies innovate.

“The other side is people like us,” Doshi said. “We’re going to be the ones facing those consequences. We don’t have a ton of people advocating for us, I don’t have a corporate lobby arm.”

“There’s just a lot unknown,” Kuester said, “and I think everybody is moving towards this kind of idea of what we think it could be, but in actuality, we don’t really know.”

C-SPAN recognized the BASIS Oro Valley students by naming their documentary an ‘honorable mention’ prize winner in the Student-Cam 2024 contest. As for their next project, the team said they’d like to take a dive into the historical legacy of the U.S. Supreme Court case, ‘Brown v. Board of Education.”