Spring 2022 English Graduate Courses

350:641 - The Ethics & Politics of Artificial Intelligence: An Introduction

Course No:  350:641
Index # - 14889
Distribution Requirement:  A4, B
Thursday - 10:20 a.m.
MU 207

The Ethics & Politics of Artificial Intelligence: An Introduction

(Cross-listed with Philosophy)


Lauren M.E. Goodlad and Alex Guerrero

“Artificial intelligence” (AI) is ubiquitous in both the imagined and actual worlds of our day. This introductory graduate seminar provides frameworks for critical thinking on the topic: from the conceptual, technical, and historical, to the ethical, social, and political. As "AI" conjures fictional formulations, real-world transformations, and a culture of hype, students in the humanities must learn to distinguish between what is and what might be while considering the ethical and political questions of the present and future.

Our course begins by familiarizing students with "artificial intelligence." What is AI today, what has it been in the past, and what might it become in the near or not-so-near future? How and why does the AI of science fiction differ from the commercial products and research horizons of industry and academia? Why is the hype so pervasive and who benefits from the attendant confusion and anxiety?

We proceed by engaging some of the pressing ethical and political questions that AI raises including automated decision-making and attendant problems of bias; privacy, data mining, and surveillance; large language models and their “stochastic” approach and social and environmental effects; robots, automation, and the future of work; the impact of algorithms on democracy and political life; and the uses and abuses of AI in love, art, and sex. As we consider the longer-term horizons of AI, we will address possibly far-fetched concerns from the possibility of conscious robots (with rights!?), to superintelligence, “the singularity,” human replacement, and brain emulations. Thinking about these possibilities is philosophically revealing regarding humanity, even if the problems these technological possibilities pose are unlikely to arise in our lifetimes, in several lifetimes, or ever.

This is an interdisciplinary seminar designed for humanists: knowledge of philosophical ethics and technical expertise is welcomed but not at all required. (Background concepts from ethics or technology will be fully explained.)