Are we alone in the universe?’ and ‘will robots Will robots steal our jobs in future?’ are two of the most fundamental scientific and philosophical questions humanity seeks to answer at present. Some of the world’s greatest minds are working on unlocking these mysteries right now, but what about the next generation? Well, now students at The University of Manchester can actually study courses that may, one day, help yield an answer to these huge questions.
‘Are We Alone? The Search for Extraterrestrial Life’ and ‘AI: Robot Overlord, Replacement or Colleague?’ are two new courses being offered to all University of Manchester undergraduates and both are the first courses of their kind in the UK.
‘Are We Alone?’ is the first course of its kind to look not only at the science and astrophysics behind the search for life on other planets but also to investigate the biological and social factors that influence the probability of finding other intelligent civilizations. The course also looks at the implications for our own society and culture in terms of global politics, the world economy, theology, art, literature and the legal ramifications of ‘first contact’.
Mike Garrett, director of Jodrell Bank Centre for Astrophysics, says, “There are plenty of Astrobiology courses around the world. But this is the first one to include the social and cultural aspects of the topic, treated with equal weight to the science.”
The course also provides a comprehensive overview of the most recent developments currently taking place at the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) project.
Garrett adds, “If we are truly alone, does this mean that we are in some way special? If there are other civilizations out there, do they look and think like us?”
“It was Arthur C Clarke who said ‘two possibilities exist: either we are alone in the Universe or we are not. Both are equally terrifying!’ …and I tend to agree.” Caroline Jay, senior lecturer of Computer Science and trained psychologist, who will teach ‘AI: Robot Overlord, Replacement or Colleague?’, adds that it is important that students learn about such issues.
“The whole point of universities is to equip people with the skills to learn. Students are not here to just learn a set of facts, but to learn how things change, evolve and how they can fit into that future,” she says.
Last year, a report by McKinsey Global Institute suggested that up to 800 million careers – that is 30 percent of the world’s workforce – from doctors to accountants, lawyers to journalists – will be lost to computers by 2030. But Jay also wants to reduce some of the fear factors around AI for students who will enter the future workforce. She adds, “The aim of the course is to demystify AI – to enable people to understand how it works, what its current limitations are, and the potential that it holds.”
The aim is to equip Manchester graduates from all disciplines with ‘an understanding of the impact this technology currently has, the way this is likely to change in the future and, crucially, the ability to grasp the opportunities it brings.’ Jay adds, “We want Manchester graduates to be able to use AI as a tool in their profession, and contribute to ensuring that it addresses the challenges of the future, whatever their area of work.”
The courses are hosted by the University College for Interdisciplinary learning (UCIL) at Manchester. The aim is to provide students with the opportunity to take interdisciplinary courses outside their discipline. And to work alongside students from right across the university. UCIL academic director, Cathy McCrohan says, “I am really excited about these two courses. They address fundamental questions for society and bring together world-class academics and students from the Sciences and Humanities. We owe it to our students to help them broaden their understanding of the world and of different approaches to scholarship. And it is clear from the take-up that students are excited too.”
Reference: Times Of India