cs6501: Risks and Benefits of Generative AI and LLMs

University of Virginia, Fall 2023

Meetings: Mondays and Wednesdays, 9:30-10:45am in Rice 340

Course Objective. This seminar will focus on understanding the potential risks and benefits of advances in Generative Artificial Intelligence and Large Language Models. This is a research-focused seminar that will expect students to read papers and lead discussions.

Expected Background: Students are not required to have prior background in machine learing or security, but will be expected to learn whatever background they need on these topics mostly on their own. The seminar is open to ambitious undergraduate students and research-focused graduate students with interests in machine learning, privacy, fairness, security, and related topics. Instructor permission is required to enroll, and decisions about enrollment will be based on what you are able to bring to the seminar.

Coordinator: David Evans ( My office is Rice 507.

Course Expectations

Students in the seminar are expected to:

  • Lead discussions on interesting topics during the class meetings. For each week, there will be a team of students charged with preparing a topic and leading the discussion, and another team charged with writing a blog post about the class. Students responsible for posting the blog summary will be different from the ones charged with leading the topic discussion, but should work closely with the leaders on the posted write-up.

  • Participate actively in class meetings. This means being prepared to contribute by doing the assigned preparation (which will typically involve reading a few research papers, but may involve other things also) and thinking about the materials deeply to be able to contribute well to discussions. Part of this preparation will involve responding in writing to questions posed before the class.


Course Website: All course materials will be posted on the course website, and students will be expected to provide materials to add to this site.

Honor and Responsibility

We believe strongly in the value of a community of trust, and expect all of the students in this class to contribute to strenghtening and enhancing that community. The course will be better for everyone if everyone can assume everyone else is trustworthy. The course staff starts with the assumption that all students at the university deserve to be trusted.

In this course, we will be exploring both technical topics and personal and societal ones, some of which touch on individual’s deeply held values and beliefs. We expect students to be able to have intense discussions about these topics, but do to so in a way that is mutually respectful and that approaches views that are different from your own with curiosity and interest rather than with dismissiveness and disdain.

We may also learn about and explore some vulnerabilities that could be used to compromise deployed systems as well as potentially evil things that can be done with current and future technologies. You are trusted to behave respectfully, responsibily, and ethically. You may not attack any system without permission of its owners, and may not use anything you learn in this class in ways that could be considered harmful. If you have any doubts about whether or not something you want to do is ethical and legal, you should check with the course instructor before proceeding.

Generative AI Policy

The University does not yet have a policy on the use of Generative AI tools, but SEAS recommends: “in Enginering we feel it is vital that every instructor include in their syllabi an explicit policy on use of generative AI in their class - in what ways is it allowed, in what ways is it disallowed, and why.”

The recommended language for UVA is:

“The ethical use of artificial intelligence technologies is strictly at the discretion of the course’s professor and is otherwise prohibited without the professor’s explicit written or verbal permission. Artificial Intelligence tools may not be cited as authors, though the tools used must be fully disclosed as a source along with the capacity in which they were used. All outputs of artificial intelligence, both explicitly used and as inspiration in one’s submission, must be properly cited to its appropriate source.”

The suprisingly sudden need for such policies is, of course, highly relevant to the topic of this seminar!

Our policy for this seminar is to strongly encourage the use of generative AI in any way you can find useful. You should document and explain the tools you used, how you used them, and anything interesting about the results and your interactions with the tools. I do hope some groups will explore using LLMs to help in your writing for the class, and maybe even in preparing your presentations. But, of course, you should do this fully aware of the limitations of these tools and the risks that they can lead you astray.

Additional (Mostly Generic) Information

Special Circumstances: The University of Virginia strives to provide accessibility to all students. If you require an accommodation to fully access this course, please contact the Student Disability Access Center (SDAC) at (434) 243-5180 or If you are unsure if you require an accommodation, or to learn more about their services, you may contact the SDAC at the number above or by visiting their website

Accommodations: It is the University’s long-standing policy and practice to reasonably accommodate students so that they do not experience an adverse academic consequence when serious personal issues conflict with academic requirements. Although University policy only recognizes religious accomodations, the course instructor believes they are many other valid reasons for accomdations that are at least as justifiable as ones for religious observance and consider family obligations, personal crises, travel to research conferences, and extraordinary opportunities to all be potentially valid reasons for accomodations. Students who wish to request accommodations should submit their request to Prof. Evans as far in advance as possible.

If you have questions or concerns about the University policy on academic accommodations for religious observance or religious beliefs, visit or contact the University’s Office for Equal Opportunity and Civil Rights (EOCR) at or 434-924-3200.

Safe Environment: The University of Virginia is dedicated to providing a safe and equitable learning environment for all students. To that end, it is vital that you know two values that we and the University hold as critically important:

  1. Power-based personal violence will not be tolerated.
  2. Everyone has a responsibility to do their part to maintain a safe community on grounds (including in virtual environments).

If you or someone you know has been affected by power-based personal violence, more information can be found on the UVA Sexual Violence website that describes reporting options and resources available:

As your professor and as a human, know that I care about you and your well-being and stand ready to provide support and resources as much as I can. As a faculty members, I am considered a responsible employee, which means that we are required by University policy and federal law to report what you tell us to the University’s Title IX Coordinator. The Title IX Coordinator’s job is to ensure that the reporting student receives the resources and support that they need, while also reviewing the information presented to determine whether further action is necessary to ensure survivor safety and the safety of the University community. If you would rather keep this information confidential, there are Confidential Employees you can talk to on Grounds (see The worst possible situation would be for you or your friend to remain silent when there are so many here willing and able to help.

Well-being: If you are feeling overwhelmed, stressed, or isolated, there are many individuals here who are ready and wanting to help. The Student Health Center offers Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) for all UVA students. Call 434-243-5150 (or 434-972-7004 for after hours and weekend crisis assistance) to get started and schedule an appointment. If you prefer to speak anonymously and confidentially over the phone, Madison House provides a HELP Line at any hour of any day: 434-295-8255.