School of Computer Science announces new AI specific major

Credit: Anna Boyle/Art Editor Credit: Anna Boyle/Art Editor Credit: Anna Boyle/Art Editor Credit: Anna Boyle/Art Editor

Carnegie Mellon University’s School of Computer Science announced that a new artificial intelligence (AI) major will be launched this year, the first undergraduate major specific to AI among United States universities.

The unprecedented move was in response to the rapid growth of artificial intelligence in the field of computer science, as well as the ways in which the study of computer science has shaped Carnegie Mellon, from the work of Allen Newell and Herbert A. Simon in the 1950s, all the way to today, where the School of Computer Science is considered one of the best programs in the country.

Andrew Moore, Dean of the School of Computer Science, explained in a press release that “Carnegie Mellon has an unmatched depth of expertise in AI, making us uniquely qualified to address this need for graduates who understand how the power of AI can be leveraged to help people,” showing clear optimism in the program.

Students in the School of Computer Science will have the choice to declare a major in artificial intelligence after the conclusion of their first year.

Dean Moore expects the artificial intelligence major to start small right now, with around 35 students per class and around 100 students total in the program, but he told Forbes in an interview on the new major that he expects growth in response predicted demand, noting that the main thing inhibiting untethered growth of the department and major in the future is the lack of “physical space on campus, especially dorm rooms,” not a lack of qualified faculty or candidates.

As for what the actual major will consist of, students will have to take a comprehensive array of math, core computer science, and core AI subject classes, as well as one class in ethics and one in cognitive psychology, Dean Moore told Forbes.

Many of those familiar with computer science know that with advancements in artificial intelligence, profound ethical issues and implications arise. In an interview with The Tartan, Dean Moore said that “we need SCS graduates to be schooled in how to perform their own ethical thinking about whole new [classes] of unforeseen issues that will arise for them during their jobs.”

Future students in the artificial intelligence major will have ethical training to a degree — though it is only one class. They can choose between Professor Jen Keating and Professor Illah Nourbakhsh’s “AI and Humanity,” Professor David Danks’ “AI and Humanity and Society,” or Professor Jim Herbsleb’s “Ethics and Policy Issues in Computing,” Moore told The Tartan.

The creation of a permanent major in artificial intelligence may come as a surprise to some, especially those who view AI research as something that follows public and scientific popularity fads, waxing and waning in response to the progress being made in the feild.

To this, Dean Moore told The Tartan that the computer science department “expect[s] a backlash against the discipline as the realization dawns that exciting as AI is, it is not magic, but simply a toolbox of theory and techniques to simulate intelligent behavior.”

He, however, believes that AI is here to stay. He states, “it really is different this time; as a purely engineering discipline you can use tools from AI (perception, learning, decision-making and actuation) in all the major industrial verticals with great impact.” What can be done right now given the current state of AI technology, rather than past theoreticals on what will be done in the future, is what separates the present from the past, Moore noted.

The major in artificial intelligence in the School of Computer Science has already attracted the attention of Bloomberg, Forbes, and CNET, among others, without even having students entered in the program yet. Opportunistic or not, Carnegie Mellon University has the distinct claim of being the only United States university with a major in artificial intelligence.

Dean Moore concluded his statements with The Tartan stating that those most beneficial to AI projects he’s worked on are those who have been “exposed to the physics of perception, the mathematics of statistical learning, the systems issues of cloud and edge compute, and the theory of computer science.” With this major, he says, “this is a chance to be one of those people!”