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A Counterintuitive Proposal
[ Issue 159 Page 13 ] Thursday, December 28, 2017, 00:16:49 Yehhyun Jo Head of Society yehhyunjo18@kaist.ac.kr

Alternatives to the Rescinded AI Course

The plan to create a mandatory artificial intelligence (AI) course at KAIST was recently rescinded. The KAIST Herald takes a moment to ponder whether the idea deserved a complete scrap. Could we make do with an improved plan to better prepare ourselves for the anticipated Fourth Industrial Revolution? Below are two alternatives to the rescinded AI mandatory course.

The plan for a mandatory AI course was rooted in the idea to prepare KAIST students for the incoming Fourth Industrial Revolution. While there is something to be said about Korea’s fixation with this “revolution”, the fact is that the plan failed to launch. And I wholeheartedly agree with that decision; AI was a rather narrow-sighted approach to improving the STEM-based education at KAIST. However, I believe that there is an opportunity here to revise the idea to add a specialized, basic required humanities course. This should be a higher priority than rushing to teach anything in any capacity; we must first learn to question why we learn before hurriedly attempting to learn everything that sounds important.

With the rapid rise in “tech” jobs and innovation, the so-called “humanities” courses have taken a huge hit in enrollment numbers in colleges across the world. In response, countless efforts have been made by the defenders of literature, philosophy, music, art, political science, etc. to highlight the importance of these subjects in an increasingly STEM-oriented academia. Especially in the US, liberal arts colleges have experienced significant success with integrating the humanities and the sciences. Some have even modified STEM to STEAM, including the “Arts”. Unfortunately, the boom of liberal arts is not evident in Korea, as the curriculum has yet to be adopted into the Korean education system.

Nonetheless, the importance of a course such as philosophy is not lost on me. Philosophy is the source of all sciences and systematic methodologies; it is the first step of a winding staircase of questions and critical thinking that ends with scientific discovery. When one takes a philosophy class, one’s mind should be subjected to doubt, discourse, digressions, and debate. One should be challenged with ethics, morality, socio-cultural values, purpose, perspective, logic, and beliefs, all of which become tools not only for one’s STEM career, but also for one’s personal life. I’m not saying that science does not provide a similar experience; in theory, it should. However, there is obviously a difference in the scope and depth of questions asked by the two disciplines that play off of each other and enhance both in the process. Science is simply the areas of philosophy that have been answered or are in the process of being answered. All of the “big” questions asked in science come from philosophy; the meaning of life, the purpose of science, the origins of the universe, the concept of reality, the nature of humans, etc. STEM and humanities are intrinsically tied, partners in human progress. Learning one helps understand and advance the other.

I used philosophy as the main example here, but in truth, any humanities class can become the slow-paced tool that one uses to deliberately decipher the fast-paced world. Employers and graduate schools in the US consistently praise the performances of students from liberal arts backgrounds, particularly for critical thinking and formulating intriguing and novel questions. Obviously, I am not suggesting a radical shift to liberal arts at KAIST. Our university is a successful specialized science and technology institute in its own right. And in a perfect world, I would like to see a whole host of diverse humanities classes added to the school. But a more realistic proposal would be the creation of a humanities curriculum that is integrated into the basic required courses instead of being a separate entity that exists only as a graduation requirement, driving students to take easy classes to boost their GPA. I believe that a course offering a blend of Western and Eastern philosophies with a scientific (philosophy of science) edge should be added to support innovative progress and critical thinking in general while doing science. The lack of such a class in a science-and-technology-oriented school, or any school, is baffling. Philosophy should be at the heart of any higher-level learning along with the basic sciences, mathematics, and programming.

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