Letter from the Executive Director: The Year of AI

President Hartzell speaks with students and robot at the 2024 SXSW Hook ‘Em House.

On Jan. 31, UT President Jay Hartzell declared 2024 “The Year of AI,” and announced that the University was launching a multi-million-dollar faculty recruitment initiative to help bring more of the world’s best and brightest AI professors to the Forty Acres.

That same month, the cover story of this magazine looked at the choices we all face as artificial intelligence becomes commonplace. We had a big reaction to that story from alumni—many of whom wanted to learn directly from the professors featured. We’re all thirsty for knowledge in this area.   

I’ve been fascinated by AI for years, and I’ve noted the fears many people have about a technology that can grow and evolve faster than we can even comprehend. A quote in that story from Sherri Greenberg, BA ’78, Life Member, chair of UT’s Good Systems ethical AI initiative, stuck out for me: “You’re using AI all day, every day,” she said. “But you just don’t think about it.”   

This is happening. To a degree, it’s already happened. As I write this, AI is pointing out grammatical issues and even suggesting I rephrase some sentences to sound more assertive.   

With The University of Texas as its driving force, Austin can be to AI what Silicon Valley was and is to the tech industry. We are witnessing the birth of something that, much like the internet, will change everything.   

As a businessperson and a Longhorn, I’m thrilled to have a front row seat to the University’s big moment. And I’m proud of my alma mater for investing in this area. In March of this year, UT took over the legendary Antone’s Nightclub for two days during South by Southwest and made it into the Hook ’Em House—a burnt-orange mecca for attendees to learn about the latest innovations and research, and naturally to hear some live music. As I put on my badge and walked into the venue, I spotted President Hartzell conversing with a student and the AI-powered robot they had built. The robot was creative, resourceful, and even a little funny.   

We don’t know where all of this will lead, but we do know that UT Austin will be at the center of it all. So, while much of the national conversation around AI has focused on why we should feel afraid, I say we take a moment to feel … excited.  

Hook ’em,  

Chuck Harris, BBA ’86, Life Member 
Executive Director & CEO, the Texas Exes 

CREDIT: Trent Lesikar




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