by LIZZIE DEAL
To keep up with evolving technology and jobs, a taskforce of faculty members has devised a new program of study to possibly be implemented featuring artificial intelligence (AI). The Board of Trustees will meet to vote on the proposed major in January, and if approved, it could be open for enrollment in the fall of 2020.
Artificial intelligence isn’t a common major. In fact, very few universities can claim to have a program strictly for AI. The proposed program here will set itself apart from others by taking a broader, more interdisciplinary approach to the subject.
“Most of the AI programs are some kind of track or specialization in computer science,” Professor Alanah Mitchell, Co-Chair of the program’s development, said. “[Ours] combines math and computer science with business, law, humanities and art. It’s a lot of areas working together, so you’ll get the technical and math foundations and statistics, but you’ll also understand how that makes sense in a business, and legally what are the requirements that we need to think about. Also, you’ll be thinking about the humanistic and philosophy perspectives of what that means to be artificially intelligent and even the role that art plays in terms of human-computer interaction.”
The idea for the major initially stemmed from a working group that was looking at artificial intelligence and jobs that are robot-proof and could not be replaced by AI, Mitchell said. After establishing the idea, faculty from all of the different disciplines that the major will contain met to research background information and create the foundations of the curriculum. All of the information was then compiled into a twenty-page document proposing the program that the Board of Trustees will then vote on.
“There’s a lot of different phases that you go through [when creating a major], but particularly in this case because it’s so interdisciplinary, it’s faculty from lots of different areas getting together,” Mitchell said. “You do some background work to see what other universities are doing, and maybe if there’s a gap or something that we could address better. I think particularly at Drake, we’ve done a really good job with professional preparedness programs that combine that liberal arts background, and so I think that makes a lot of sense for us to put out this AI program. Then actually developing the learning objectives, what a graduate would come out of the program being able to do and what their skills might look like, and then also connecting with businesses to see if we’re in the right direction or not.”
The proposed AI program would offer not just a major and minor, but three different concentrations as well that are aligned with its goal of being an interdisciplinary field of study.
“This major is meant to prepare students to live and work in a world of AI, and thus the knowledge and skills students acquire will be relevant to a variety of fields,” Professor Martin Roth, Co-Chair of the program’s development, said. “This aspect of the major is reflected in three concentration options: computer science and AI, business and AI, and humanities and AI. Our program reflects the belief that AI isn’t a discipline but a complex phenomenon that needs to be studied from a variety of disciplinary perspectives.”
Because of the distinctive look at AI that the major would offer, Professor Timothy Urness, who helped to develop the program, hopes that if it is approved, the major will set Drake apart from other universities and possibly put Drake on the radar of prospective students who might not have considered it an option previously.
“I think that the AI major will benefit Drake by providing a unique and practical learning experience that combines areas of the humanities, philosophy, business and technology,” Urness said. “The ultimate goal is to provide an educational experience for students that will prepare them to be leaders in a future that increasingly utilizes artificial intelligence. That is, we want our students to develop skills that are reflective, inspirational, entrepreneurial, and valuable and can’t simply be replaced with AI in the future. Thus, a university that can provide this kind of education should be attractive to prospective students as well as the community going forward.”
The AI major would also fit with Drake’s mission statement by providing students with an “exceptional learning environment,” preparing them to lead “meaningful lives” and for “professional accomplishments,” Urness says. With this in mind, the major is also built to evolve as technology evolves to keep students prepared to face changes in the world and the workplace.
“The future is certainly going to involve elements of technology and artificial intelligence, and it’s the responsibility of the university to prepare students to thrive after they graduate,” Urness said. “I think that it’s important for Drake to continue to develop curriculum that delivers on the promise reflected in the mission statement. I see the AI major as an initiative that looks to incorporate the things that Drake already does well: education, humanities, philosophy, business, and technology within a curriculum with a vision for the future in artificial intelligence.”