Bowdoin to Offer AI Ethics Course in 2023

Bowdoin College will develop a new class focused on the ethical issues raised by artificial intelligence technologies that will be offered in the fall of 2023. The private liberal arts college in Maine recently announced that it will work with the North Carolina–based National Humanities Center on the effort. Faculty members from digital and computational studies, government, and cinema studies plan to co-teach the course.

Artificial intelligence technology involves machines that use algorithms that learn from data, make decisions and perform tasks without human input. It has been celebrated for benefiting society, including, for example, aiding in the development of the COVID-19 vaccine. But it also often reinforces racial and gender bias. Also, militaries around the world are developing AI-powered drones—commonly known as “killer robots”—that make decisions to kill without the involvement of humans.

“It’s important that we define our objectives and our limitations as we develop this transformative technology so that it effectively promotes the common good,” Fernando Nascimento, a Bowdoin professor who teaches digital and computational studies, said in a press release.

The late Stephen Hawking warned that superintelligent, AI-powered machines could harbor and achieve goals that conflict with human life. For this reason, some have asked whether scientists need an AI Hippocratic oath.

“Our goal starting out is that this won’t be a one-off,” Eric Chown, a digital and computational studies professor at Bowdoin, told the Portland Press Herald. “The average student going through life needs to learn about AI at this point because it’s impacting them in everyday life.”

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Susan DAgostino