One of your major projects for this course is a group project and presentation in which you and a partner will do some reading, write a paper based on the reading, 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 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 twelve people in the course, there will be six groups. The six projects are listed below. We will discuss in class how the students in the seminar will be matched up with the projects. Most likely, assignments will be made randomly. The dates are not 100% definite, but we will attempt to stick to this schedule.
I expect you to meet with me well in advance of your presentation to discuss your plans for the project. The two students who are working together on the project should turn in a single, unified paper, which should be at least six pages long. The paper should not be a simple book report on the readings; it should include some analysis of the ideas presented. You might want to use some additional references in addition to the assigned books, but this is not absolutely required. The paper should be turned in on the date of the presentation or at the following class period.
You should divide up the work during the presentation so that each student is talking for part of the time. You should carefully plan a class discussion based on the reading that you have selected for the class. Part of the grade for the project will depend on how well the discussion goes. Please note that you must select a reading for the class early enough that it can be photocopied and handed out to the class at the class period before the presentation.
Here is the list of projects. 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!. Please return it when you turn in your paper.
Date Project September 23 Animal Minds, by Donald R. Griffin. How 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. You will want to discuss his idea of consciousness, review the evidence that he presents, and consider how it all relates to the questions that we are investigating in this course. October 7 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"). You should read the first 150 or 200 pages, and you should be prepared to tell the class about the early history of AI and perhaps about some of the personalities involved. October 28 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. (I particularly liked "Making a Pass at a Robot.") November 11 An Anthropologist on Mars, by Oliver Sacks. Everyone in the class will be reading some selections from The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, by Oliver Sacks. An Anthropologist on Mars is another book by the same author. Sacks is a 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 case studies in An Anthropologist on Mars are longer than those in The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat. You will want to look at several of them. I recommend in particular the title essay, "An Anthropologist on Mars," which concerns autism. November 18 Descartes' Error: Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain, by Antonio R. Damasio. Another 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. You will want to read at least Part I of this book, and you will certainly want to tell the story of Phineas Gage. December 2 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.