Student Papers  |    |  April 19, 2018

Designing a General Education Course on the Societal Impacts of Artificial Intelligence

Honors College Thesis by Vincent Michael Rollins.
The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.


Nearly every piece of technology we use today was invented on the basis of a single question: “How can a particular job or process be made easier?” The moment we stop asking ourselves this question is the moment when technology stops progressing. Our perseverance in this endeavor eventually revealed that a process is easiest when it is automated by something we create. What, then, would happen if our process of invention itself were automated? Can we create a machine that can learn and think for us? This is the entire idea behind creating artificial intelligence, otherwise known as AI.

Research in AI began in the 1960’s and has progressed exponentially, with every day bringing a new development that moves us closer and closer to an artificially intelligent program. However, the potentially widespread implications of this technology are often underrepresented to the general public. Even more than the internet, AI has the potential to change every aspect of our world, but as with the early days of the World Wide Web, relatively few people are aware of that potential. This thesis proposes to answer the following questions, with the intent of incorporating the answers into a general education course syllabus: What are the most important concepts in understanding the importance of this emerging technology? Where are we now in our endeavors, and what are the predictions moving forward? What are the economic, philosophical, cultural, and ethical implications of AI? Would artificial intelligence be considered living/conscious, and if so, what would that imply? Questions such as these help direct the design of a course that informs students of the emergence of artificial intelligence and its truly extensive repercussions.

Most colleges, including UTC, already offer an artificial intelligence course (CPSC 4440) as part of their computer science curricula. Such courses are meant to explain the technology behind these elaborate systems, but these courses often neglect extensive coverage of the realworld impacts of the technology itself. UTC also offers a course entitled “Ethical and Social Issues in Computing” that does convey the importance behind the advances of computer technology and its impacts, but this course is practically available only to computer science majors. There is no generalized and widely available course that covers the technological, economic, cultural, philosophical/theological, and ethical concerns that come with the implementation of artificial intelligence.

My main endeavor in this thesis has been to review the literature of the fields involved and decide what collection of reading/film assignments best covers the necessary information when it comes to the widespread impacts of AI. I then constructed a course syllabus with clearly defined assignments and a schedule of topics. Furthermore, I discuss each decision in the construction of the syllabus and explain how and why each topic will be addressed when the course is offered in the fall semester of 2018. The final product of my research is this thesis, detailing the considerations that went into the design of the course; every anticipated discussion topic, reading, and writing assignment is laid out in detail, and the decisions for every area of the class are explained. A final syllabus for the course has been drafted as well as a completed course proposal form containing clear explanations of how this course meets the established purpose and learning outcomes of UTC’s Thought, Values, and Beliefs general education category. [ . . . ]