One of your major projects for this course is a group project and presentation in which you and a partner will do some reading or (in one case) watch some movies, write a paper based on this work, and do a class presentation. For the presentation, you will take over the course for one class or at least for a large part of a class. In this class, you will do a presentation and then lead a discussion about it. Before this class, everyone in the seminar will do a short reading or other work to prepare for the discussion. You will be responsible for choosing the reading, although in a few cases I have some strong preferences about some of the things that should be included in this reading. You can, if you like, use the paper that you write as the reading or as part of the reading.
Since there are sixteen people in the course, there will be eight groups. The eight projects are listed below. We will discuss in class how the students in the seminar will be matched up with the projects. The dates are not 100% definite, but we will attempt to stick to this schedule.
I have a copy of each of the books listed here. I will lend you my copy. Returning any book I lend you is part of the requirements for the course! The library has copies of the movies 2001 and AI.
Date Project September 25 AI: The Tumultuous History of the Search for Artificial Intelligence, by Daniel Crevier. If this book were not out of print, everyone in this course would be reading it. It covers some of the history of the traditional style of AI ("symbol processing"). The students working on this project should read the first 150 or 200 pages, and they should be prepared to tell the class about the early history of AI and perhaps about some of the personalities involved. October 9 Flesh and Machines: How Robots will Change Us, by Rodney A. Brooks. Everyone in the course will read Hans Moravec's Robot. Brooks is another believer in robots, though not quite so extreme as Moravec. Brooks has a lot of credibility as the head of the MIT Artificial Intelligence Lab, where he has built a number of well-known robots. October 16 Movies, including 2001: A Space Odyssey and AI: Artificial Intelligence. Both of these movies were conceived by the great director Stanley Kubrick, although AI was completed by Steven Spielberg after Kubrick's death. Kubrick apparently wanted to make a serious attempt to present a realistic view of artificial intelligence. Did he succeed? Your project would look at how AI is presented in these movies and perhaps others, such as Bicenteniel Man and The Matrix. It would be a good idea to use about half the class for showing excerpts from the movies. October 30 Life on the Screen and The Second Self, by Sherry Turkle.Turkle is a sociologist, interested in way people interact with computers and in the way computers affect people's views of themselves. Life on the Screen is a 1995 book that includes the effect of the Internet, while The Second Self is an older, pre-Internet book. I would suggest looking at Part I of The Second Self, which deals with children's interactions with machines, together with some sections of the other book. November 6 Animal Minds, by Donald R. Griffin. Can we recognize artificial intelligence in machines if we can't even be sure whether animals are conscious and whether they should be said to have any kind of intelligence? Griffin makes the argument that animals do, in fact, have minds that are similar in kind, though simpler, to human minds. An interesting pair of related readings for the class might be "The Soul of Martha, a Beast" and "The Soul of the Mark III Beast" from The Mind's I. November 13 Descartes' Error: Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain, by Antonio R. Damasio. An neurologist, Damasio has been especially interested in emotion. He believes that emotion, rather than being something that interferes with reason, is in fact a central component of human reasoning ability. November 20 The Man who Mistook his Wife for a Hat and Anthropologist on Mars, by Oliver Sacks. Sacks is another neurologist who works with patients with a variety of mental deficits and problems. These books are collections of case studies of his patients. His style is humanistic and conversational. These books show how damage to the brain can affect intelligence, behavior, and personality -- often in surprising or shocking ways. The project would look at a selection of case studies from the two books. I would very much like the whole class to read, at least, "The Man who Mistook his Wife for a Hat," the title essay from the first book, which is about a man who mistakes his wife for a hat. December 4 Artificial Life: The Quest for a New Creation, by Steven Levy. Artificial life is an alternative to the traditional, symbolic approach to AI. In AL, complexity is not programmed in explicit detail; instead, it "emerges" from the interaction of relatively simple components. One of the most intriguing examples of artificial life is the Genetic Algorithm, which is an attempt to apply ideas from biological evolution to the creation of complex artificial systems. This book is a popularized account of various approaches to artificial life and the people who work on them. The project would consist of a selection of topics from this fairly long book.