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AI: Beyond Computer Science

When students tell me that they would like to pursue a Computer Science major, I encourage them to consider digging to discover which parts of this field appeal to them most. These general areas are AI, Systems, Theory, and other Interdisciplinary Areas, and each of the categories holds many other specialized fields as well. Not surprisingly, Artificial Intelligence is often a popular choice because of its tangibility and promise.

Recently, a freshman student asked me to search for colleges offering a specialized AI major. At this moment, undergraduate AI programs are in the infancy stage at most universities, and AI as a distinct academic discipline is very new. However, I encouraged this boy to be patient as new programs will likely continue to pop up as he progresses through the rest of high school and prepares to apply to colleges.

Here’s a twist: the natural assumption that these programs will grow out of Computer Science is only partially true. I’ve learned that current AI research is being conducted by professors in various departments, and the work being done is not targeted specifically for "AI" majors.

Some of the most advanced AI work is being done within departments of psychology. Most of the recent recipients of PhDs from the Cognition and Perception division of NYU's Psychology department are working in AI at the highest levels. NYU also offers perception and cognition tracks to undergraduate psychology majors. Colby College recently announced that it has received a $30-million gift to establish the first cross-disciplinary institute for artificial intelligence (AI) at a liberal arts college. According to Colby President David A. Greene, The goal is to “reimagine a liberal arts education for this century and beyond. Importantly, it will ensure that the next generation of leaders will have rich technical expertise, but they will not simply be technocrats. These Colby graduates will be deeply educated in the liberal arts with the powers of discernment to shape AI for the greater good.”

It is satisfying to see AI find its place within academic disciplines that emphasize different higher level critical thinking skills apart from those required in STEM fields. I am optimistic and hopeful for students who will be able to hone in on many options as they plan to study AI. Some will choose to major in Computer Science, but they won’t need to. It’s all just beginning.


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