Using Science Fiction in Teaching Artificial Intelligence

AAAI Conferences 

Many factors are blamed for the decreasing enrollments in computer science and engineering programs in the U.S., including the dot-com economic bust and the increase in the use of "offshore" programming labor. One major factor is also the lack of bold new vision and excitement about computer science, which thus results in a view of computer science as a field wedded to routine programming. To address this concern, we have focused on science fiction as a means to generate excitement about Artificial Intelligence, and thus in turn in Computer Science and Engineering. In particular, since the Fall of 2006, we have used science fiction in teaching Artificial Intelligence to undergraduate students at the University of Southern California (USC), in teaching activities ranging from an undergraduate upper division class in computer science to a semester-long freshman seminar for nonengineering students to micro-seminars during the welcome week. As an interdisciplinary team of scholar/instructors, our goal has been to use science fiction not only in motivating students to learn about AI, but also to use science fiction in understanding fundamental issues that arise at the intersection of technology and culture, as well as to provide students with a more creative and well-rounded course that provided a big picture view of computer science. This paper outlines the courses taught using this theme, provides an overview of our classroom teaching techniques in using science fiction, and discusses some of the lectures in more detail as exemplars. We conclude with feedback received, lessons learned and impact on both the computer science students and noncomputer-science (and non-engineering) students. "Science fiction like Star Trek is not only good fun, but serves a serious purpose, that of expanding human imagination" Physicist Stephen Hawking (from (Krauss 1995))

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