Artificial intelligence course is the latest offering in EMU’s computer science program

The computer sciences are often thought of as purely objective, devoid of ethics. But, as computer science professor Dee Weikle explains, every single computer program contains its writer’s conscious and unconscious values.

The field as a whole is becoming attuned to ethics in our computer culture, and that discussion also touches a new course about artificial intelligence, taught at Eastern Mennonite University (EMU) by Greg Keim. “The course introduces the core algorithms of AI as well as exploring the human impact and ethics of AI,” said Keim.

“For artificial intelligence, it’s worth thinking about … how can we direct this to be used for the most positive benefit?” says Keim, an adjunct faculty member.

A human-impact approach permeates EMU’s computer science department as a whole. Weikle, for example, is a member of the Association for Computing Machinery’s Special Interest Group on Computers and Society, which addresses matters such as this: The command “control + alt + delete” on a PC requires hand mobility that disabled users may not have. And, an ATM screen that asks in English if one would like options in Spanish is ineffective across language barriers.

Weikle, who has a PhD in computer science from University of Virginia and a BS in electrical engineering from Rice, says EMU’s computer science program strives to educate young computer scientists to be aware of such issues.

“A much more complete computer scientist” is likely to emerge from EMU’s liberal arts framework – with its variety of classes and cross-cultural study opportunities – than from undergraduate programs that exclusively focus on the technical aspects of information technology, she says.

Modeled on UC Berkeley toolkit

Many of the exercises in Keim’s class use a toolkit from the University of California-Berkeley, which allows students to implement key AI algorithms in the context of the PacMan video game.

First-year Joel Christophel says the course has taught him to employ “ideas about real, hands-on application of more theoretical concepts in artificial intelligence.”

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