In the Media: Karina Vold on teaching — and learning — about AI through a philosophical lens

December 7, 2021 by Sean Bettam - A&S News

While post-secondary courses on artificial intelligence (AI) typically focus on techniques for designing algorithms and applications of machine learning, new courses at some institutions are teaching students to take a moral and philosophical approach to AI.

In the latest Canadian university rankings issue from Maclean’s magazine, Institute for the History & Philosophy of Science & Technology assistant professor Karina Vold describes her course, The Limits of Machine Intelligence as dream-shattering, challenging the notion that AI currently has the potential to exhibit human-level thinking or self-awareness. Vold says the takeaway from the course is often, “Hey, AI is not there yet. But here’s why.”

The course examines both the capacities attributed to machines and the nature of intelligence, including such questions as: What do AI researchers and developers mean by ‘intelligence,’ and how does this compare to how the term is used in other branches of science? Could a machine ever be creative, ethically aligned, or have common sense? How close are we to building general intelligence or human-level AI and what is still needed to get us there?

According to Maclean’s, such interdisciplinary AI courses are both sobering and illuminating, putting in the foreground the importance of deep, critical thinking, a long-valued skill in the liberal arts.

“It would be a harm for us as a society to let a technology be built that has such a widespread impact without having some critical reflection on what that impact is, and without trying to really understand it,” Vold says.

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