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SwissCognitive“We need to transform this course to make it more relevant outside these walls,” he said.

It had only been three years since Blanton started the class, but as AI moves from the stuff of dystopian fantasies — robots run amok — to the reality of everyday use, universities around the country are grappling with the best ways to teach it.

This year, Carnegie Mellon said it became the first university in the country to offer a separate undergraduate AI degree through its College of Computer Science. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology last month announced plans to establish a college for AI, backed by $1 billion in investments.

And the expansion is not just happening in the country’s top science and technology schools. The University of Rhode Island this fall opened an AI lab operated by its college library.

But this growth also means new challenges, such as figuring out how to teach the subject in ways understandable to those who are not computer science majors and addressing ethical dilemmas raised by the technology, such as privacy and job displacement.

“We have to start teaching those who will be practitioners and users in the broad discipline of AI, not just computer scientists,” said Emily Fox, an associate professor of computer science, engineering and statistics at the University of Washington.

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Fox developed an AI course for nonmajors, which was first offered last spring. To qualify, students had only to have completed courses in basic probability and basic programming, far fewer prerequisites than typically needed by students taking AI

She had to cap enrollment at 110 students because of such high interest.

Demi Tu, a senior studying information technology at the University of Washington, is an example of the value of reaching out to students who are not classic technology whizzes. She said she was so taken with what she learned in Fox’s class that she may choose to pursue it in graduate school.

“Before taking the class, I did not know what AI was specifically,” she said. “I just wanted the initial exposure. But the class really opened up a different path for me.”

Educators are also struggling to balance what some see as an essential teaching of the deep fundamentals of AI with a desire by some in the industry to focus on the less expensive, less complicated training of workers who can complete the tasks at hand without that deep understanding.[…]

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