Motivation and Overview

UNIV 3275 Spring 2019: The Ethics of Artificial Intelligence

Artificial intelligence is being discussed in the public square as it rarely has been in the past. While AI has always been a popular topic of science fiction, high profile technologists like Elon Musk and Bill Gates are commenting on the potential dangers of AI, particularly the prospect of “general” (aka autonomous) AI, and its displacement of the human species as dominant. Optimistic views of AI look to the power of computer analysis to strengthen human decision making in areas such as environmental sustainability. Even in the realm of general artificial intelligences, the optimistic view is that collective intelligences 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 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 technology.

Specific topics addressed in the course include the technical, safety and economic implications of AI-enabled automation, to include transportation, manufacturing, journalism, and legal advising; 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, to include the theological implications of AI, as well as the implications of 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 given as top level tabs on the course main menu. An executive summary of the course is on Vanderbilt’s Break Thru blog.

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