Highland County Public Library Celebrates 2023 Accomplishments and Hosts Dynamic AI Speaker

It was a packed house at the Highland County Public Library on Sunday, January 21 as patrons came to hear 2023 year end updates, nominate new board members, and hear local expert Jim Rutt talk about advances in artificial intelligence (AI) and its effects on our daily living and livelihood. 


Library director Tomi Herold gave updates from the year, with statistics on growth and new ideas for 2024.


“Just a few things I’d like to feature: We’re still doing the snack bags for children, anyone under 18 can come in and get a free snack bag. We have an increase in accessible books, that’s large print and read-alongs for young children who are learning to read. We now have monthly event calendars that you can look up. We still do free COVID tests. We are continuing our partnership with the Greenbank Observatory for our Mission2Mars Program. And, I also just want to our volunteers for their wonderful year.”


Outgoing library board president Heath Chambers, then nominated two new board members to fill vacancies left by Jennifer Cox and Chambers himself.


“I’ll be nominating Karen Allen and Patricia Chapman to fill our shoes. So, super super excited.”


Chapman is a retired reading specialist at Highland County Public Schools. Allen is a newer addition to Highland County who helped with the book sale as a volunteer and is a regular patron at the library. They were voted in and accepted unanimously by the board.


Jim Rutt then spoke about AI, accepting multiple questions from the audience. Rutt splits his time between McDowell and Staunton. An entrepreneur and businessman, Rutt is the former CEO of Network Solutions and former chairman of the Santa Fe Institute. He is considered an industry leader in the field of AI. He chairs the futurist nonprofit Humanity+ and serves as chief scientist of AI firms Mindplex, Cogito, and Jam Galaxy.


Rutt spoke a lot about how AI “learns,” and how this learning process mimics human growth in a process called machine learning.


“Humans aren’t code. Nobody wrote your brain. Your brain evolved from you being a little infant who couldn’t roll over to being who you are. We have added a huge number of skills and learning. We’ve learned language and how to ride a bicycle, those things. And we did it by interacting with our environment, interacting with the data. And so the approach of AI that’s been growing since the late 80s, it’s called machine learning where the program either learns from its environment, or from big data sets, or from itself. For instance, one of the world’s best chess playing programs, called AlphaZero, the latest version of it, was not taught anything except the moves of the game and how it ends. That’s it. Nothing, no strategy, no opening book. Nothing. And it just started playing itself and learning from self play.”


Rutt demonstrated some of the useful and fun ways ChatGPT4 can be used for the audience, and even showed his own product, which is designed to help the user write movie scripts. 

Attendees were particularly engaged during the question and answer portion of the program. Questions covered the usefulness, ethics, morality, and future of AI, and humanity’s relationship with it. 


For more information on the Highland County Public Library and their upcoming calendar of events, search Highland County Public Library on Facebook or visit highlandlibrary.com.

Story By


Brit Chambers

Brit Chambers is a resident of Highland County, Virginia and a news reporter for Allegheny Mountain Radio. She loves living in a small town and relishes the outdoor adventures and community feeling that Highland has to offer. Brit has a background in journalism, marketing, and public relations and spends her free time reading good books, baking sourdough bread, and hiking with her family.

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