KAIST President Sung-Chul Shin has revealed a plan for mandatory artificial intelligence (AI) classes starting for freshmen entering in 2018. The Korea Times published on September 25 the interview in which the president first stated his proposal to implement the required program.
In the interview, President Shin emphasized the strengthening of basic engineering courses, including AI. He declared that those who do not take at least one AI course during their undergraduate career “will not be able to get [a KAIST] diploma”. The ultimatum carried his belief that while machines will not be capable of mimicking human consciousness any time soon, they will still “help people enrich their lives”. He has previously displayed his strong penchant for AI in numerous ways, such as organizing “AI World Cup 2017”, the world’s first official competition for a sports-related AI competition, and a workshop on the future of big data and AI in the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
The announcement arrived following the establishment of several official projects President Shin have also proposed to be established in 2018, including the English-Only Zone (EOZ) and unaffiliated major track system. The former is an English-based dormitory that pairs up Korean and international students; the latter stems from an existing system at Daegu Gyeongbuk Institute of Science and Technology (DGIST), the university in which President Shin served as the president for two consecutive terms before taking his current position at KAIST, that allow students to remain undeclared throughout their four-year school term. The previous plans, now succeeded by the compulsory AI class, symbolize the new administration’s attempts to prioritize globalization and innovation in the upcoming Fourth Industrial Revolution. However, the reaction from the students have been lukewarm, as many pointed out the impractical and inefficient nature of the policies.
Similarly, the most recent news has been met with fierce backlash from the student body. Some viewed the subject of AI, a course usually taught as a third or fourth-year class, to be unnecessarily high-leveled for the incoming freshmen. More importantly, however, many disagreed with the way in which the president presented the new policy, regardless of the subject matter — rather than broadcasting through official school channels, President Shin disclosed the plan via an interview through an external medium. This point reverberated strongly amongst the undergraduate students, especially following a precedence of how the unaffiliated major track system was likewise introduced from an outside news source.
Such criticisms had been the core points of the statement released by the Undergraduate Student Council (USC), PUUM, just a day after the publication of the interview. The USC iterated its disappointment at the autocratic procedures and asserted that the president seemed to regard students as “passive bodies that followed his will”. They highlighted the lack of active communication between the administration and the KAIST community, which contrasted with his emphasis on “communication leadership”. The USC hoped that rather than focusing on minor events, the president would redirect his efforts to effectively conveying his policies to the students directly.
Soon after, USC members took action by requesting an appointment with the president. Though President Shin was away for an event, the USC delivered its correspondence letter to the Office of the President during a protest visit. It petitioned for: 1) a well-defined summary of the mandatory AI system and 2) a face-to- face discussion about the President’s communication methods with the USC and the student body in the future. The Secretary of the President’s Office responded that if the policy is to be pursued, the office will inform the necessary departments and require discussion about the policy. He also requested all future objections against the President’s communication method to be directed through the head. Conversely, USC stressed the rudimentary cause of the problem lay in President Shin’s continued use of outside media to deliver his future programs and wished for a direct engagement from the president.
While the AI classes have not been officially integrated into the graduation requisites for the matricular Class of 2018, they remain as one of the numerous ideas President Shin have drafted since his inauguration in March. Nonetheless, the pronouncement from the president has raised questions regarding how upcoming policies should be communicated effectively between the president and the student populace.