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Emory University unveils interdisciplinary AI minor open to all undergraduates
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Ashlee Gardner
Students presenting in Computational Linguistics class

A student group presents their proposal for a chatbot in a Computational Linguistics class.

— Kay Hinton, Emory Photo/Video

Emory University will offer an innovative new minor in Artificial Intelligence (AI) beginning this fall. Open to students in all disciplines, the forward-thinking new program is tailored not only to those intent on technical careers, but also to all Emory undergraduates who want a fundamental understanding of what AI is, how it can be used, its intended and unintended consequences, and most important, its interplay with human, societal and ethical issues such as fairness and bias.

The minor is one of the first curricular components of the campus-wide AI.Humanity initiative that brings together the full intellectual power of the university to shape how AI can enhance human health, generate economic value and promote social justice. The new option for undergraduate study will contribute to the goal of embedding AI-focused education into the university’s academic culture and equipping students with the digital literacy, skills and critical perspectives to lead in a technology-driven world.

The initial impetus for the AI minor was provided by the AI.Humanity Advisory Group, a group of faculty members from across all Emory schools.

“AI is permeating every aspect of our daily lives in applications ranging from medical diagnosis to robotic caregivers, to programs that screen job applicants, to those that determine credit worthiness, to chatbots that offer both information and companionship,” says Vaidy Sunderam, Samuel Candler Dobbs Professor and chair in the Department of Computer Science and chair of the AI.Humanity Education Subgroup.

“Understanding how such AI entities are created, their basic inner workings, how they are trained and how they evolve, can help humans lead well-informed and enriched lives. At the same time, these technologies often manifest behaviors that are at odds with integrity and ethics, such as facial recognition systems that are racially biased or analytics that invade privacy. Understanding these risks and pitfalls can not only enable preventive measures but can also guide enhanced design of future AI systems.”

Designed to reach a wide swath of students to advance those goals, Emory’s AI minor is distinct from similar minors at peer institutions due to its breadth, flexibility and accessibility, adds Sunderam.

First, it will be open to all Emory undergraduates in Oxford College, Emory College of Arts and Sciences (ECAS), Goizueta Business School (GBS) and Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing (SON). The minor is designed to be customizable, accessible and interdisciplinary in nature; any undergraduate student who has completed the General Education Requirement (GER) in Mathematics and Quantitative Reasoning (MQR) will be able to complete the sequence of AI minor courses.

Second, the AI minor is structured to provide core computer science competencies complemented by electives from other disciplines that are related to AI in both explicit and subtle ways. The program will include coursework on the conceptual underpinnings of AI, algorithmic techniques, major applications, especially in data analytics, and AI-related issues and opportunities within specific domains.

Third, the AI minor includes an ethics component designed to help undergraduates appreciate the multitude of dimensions concerning fairness, bias and social justice as they connect to AI and technology.

“Students from all majors trained in the fundamentals of AI are critical to society,” says Andrea Hershatter, senior associate dean in the Goizueta Business School. “Along with developing an appreciation for the possibilities created by AI, it is crucial to understand how bias enters seemingly impersonal algorithms, how unfair allocations are perpetuated by technological systems and the ethics of automation that displaces employment. These challenges are best addressed by students who have developed contextual depth through grounding in the liberal arts.”

The minor consists of five core courses in five categories: Fundamentals of Computing, Introductory Artificial Intelligence, AI Ethics, Machine Learning, and Natural Language Processing. In addition to the core classes, two electives from across a spectrum of disciplines including English, film and media, business, economics, psychology, and philosophy, are required. Each of these courses is at least three credit hours, requiring a minimum of 21 credit hours for the AI minor. 

“Given the obvious pervasiveness of AI in everyday life, and its rapidly increasing relevance to society, imbuing students with academic and practical knowledge of AI is at the core of the AI.Humanity initiative,” says Ravi V. Bellamkonda, provost and executive vice president for academic affairs. “With a lens informed by our strengths in the humanities, social sciences, business, health care, law and ethics, we are excited to offer this ‘uniquely Emory’ program to our students.”

Students can declare an AI minor starting Aug. 1, 2023. Visit the Department of Computer Science website to learn more.

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