Articles  |    |  February 1, 2018

Teaching artificial intelligence and humanity

Article by Jennifer Keating and Illah Nourbakhsh.
Published in Communications of the ACM.


Emerging anxieties pertaining to the rapid advancement and sophistication of artificial intelligence appear to be on a collision course with historic models of human exceptionality and individuality. Yet it is not just objective, technical sophistication in the development of AI that seems to cause this angst. It is also the linguistic treatment of machine “intelligence.” Headlines decry the existential threat of machines against humans in various media outlets. But what is really at stake?

Are we truly concerned that we will be surpassed in our capacities as human beings? Or is rhetorical slippage betraying age-old philosophical questions on what it really means to be human? To what degree do our shortcomings in acknowledging human dignity in all populations (regardless of skin pigmentation, linguistic system spoken, geographical location, or socioeconomic position) emerge in questions pertaining to power dynamics between humans and machines? And how might we usefully juxtapose a historic study of our past categorical taxonomies of humanity to more subtly inform our navigation of human-machine relationships?

In the fall of 2017 we engaged these questions and more with first-year students at Carnegie Mellon University: 16 students from the School of Computer Science and the Robotics Institute and 16 students from the Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences. In a time of accelerating technological disruption, the next generation of leaders and innovators are ill-equipped to navigate this boundary chapter in human-machine relationships. Perhaps our students can learn from how humans have treated humans to determine viable roadmaps for this challenging moment in our economic, social, and political history, as we mindfully navigate human-machine interactions. [ . . . ]