Motivation and Overview

UNIV 3275 Spring 2020: The Ethics of Artificial Intelligence

Artificial intelligence is currently being robustly discussed in the public sphere as it never has in the past. While AI has always been a popular topic of science fiction, which many have ascribed to far-fetched dreams of the future, high profile technologists such as Elon Musk and Bill Gates are now actively contemplating the potential dangers of AI, particularly the prospect of “general” (aka autonomous) AI and the subsequent displacement of the human species as the dominant entities on this planet. Optimistic views of AI focus on the power of computer analysis to strengthen human decision making in areas such as environmental sustainability. Even in the realm of general artificial intelligence, the optimistic view is that collective intelligence composed of both humans and AIs will be more powerful and compassionate than either “species” would be alone.

The high-level course objectives are that students acquire the tools (vocabulary, concepts, historiography, etc.) to critically think, read, and write about AI in scientific, engineering, and literary contexts, and going a step further, to interrogate the ethical implications of AI as a technological, social, and cultural phenomenon. Students will learn rudimentary, but important aspects of intelligent, computational modeling and processing, so that they can appreciate the implications of AI with a more sophisticated understanding of the undergirding mechanisms.

Specific topics addressed in the course include the technical, safety-related, and economic implications of AI-enabled automation. Specific sub-areas include transportation, manufacturing, journalism, legal advising, and military applications; AI-endowed advisory tools in areas such as environmental and resource planning; biases and mediocrities in AIs, which can reinforce human prejudice and myopia; AI and personhood, encompassing the theological implications of AI and falsely-perceived AIs.

We elaborate further on course themes and motivation here and an abbreviated list of topics is given here. Course organization, including grading, and a detailed class schedule are displayed under top level tabs on the course main menu. An executive summary of the course is on Vanderbilt’s Break Thru blog. The Center for Teaching site for the course also lists the degree requirements that the course fulfills.

Douglas H. Fisher: Computer Science; Computer Engineering; Communication of Science & Technology (affiliated)
Haerin Shin: English; Cinema & Media Arts (affiliated); Asian Studies (affiliated)