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SEAS Faculty Anticipate Growing Artificial Intelligence Offerings in Allston

SEAS Progress
Construction work continues on the Science and Engineering Complex in Allston. The building is on pace to open by fall 2020, and will be located next to the Enterprise Research Campus.

Increasing interest among students in artificial intelligence has prompted administrators in the Computer Science department and the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences more broadly to grow its AI program.

Over the past 10 years, enrollment in introductory artificial intelligence course COMPSCI 181: “Machine Learning” has more than quadrupled from 35 students in 2009 to more than 150 in recent years. Computer Science Area Co-Chair Edward W. Kohler said the growing student demand has led administrators to focus not only on supporting existing faculty members who teach courses in artificial intelligence, but also on recruiting additional faculty members.

“I would say that we come close, but we are not able to meet the demand,” Kohler said.

Roughly 20 faculty members across SEAS and related departments in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences currently specialize in artificial intelligence — a number that continues to grow with recent and upcoming faculty appointments.This fall, SEAS welcomed Computer Science Professor Milind Tambe, whose work aims to tackle societal problems — such as wildlife conservation — using artificial intelligence. Ariel D. Procaccio, an associate professor of computer science at Carnegie Mellon University who will join the Computer Science faculty next spring, applies artificial intelligence to problems in economics and education.

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In addition to faculty appointments, several current Computer Science faculty members said they are planning to offer new courses in the coming semesters that focus on various aspects of artificial intelligence, from its basic foundations to its ethical usage.

Associate Computer Science Professor Yaron Singer, who studies the “intersection between algorithms and machine learning,” said he will teach a new course on the foundations of machine learning next semester.

In a September interview with The Crimson, Tambe said he will take over teaching COMPSCI 108: “Intelligent Systems: Design and Ethical Challenges” and hopes to develop a course at the intersection of public health and artificial intelligence.

In light of rising student interest in artificial intelligence, Computer Science faculty members are looking towards SEAS’s upcoming expansion into Allston as a means of growing their program.

Several Computer Science faculty members pointed to the current lack of space at SEAS as a constraint on further expansion of faculty research and teaching in artificial intelligence.

Kohler said the upcoming move will minimize the “dispersal and overlap” faculty members currently experience with limited office space. For example, Kohler said they share an office with Assistant Computer Science Professor Finale Doshi-Velez once a week to allow Doshi-Velez, who is primarily based in the Science Center, to have a space that is “close to the rest of us.”

“In Allston, we’ll be able to hire more faculty, hopefully, and great faculty in all areas, including AI,” they added.

In addition to increasing space for faculty, SEAS’s expansion into Allston will also support the development of new and existing courses.

“There’s going to be some really great new classroom space that I’m really excited about and many of my colleagues are also really excited about and that will transform all our classes, including our machine learning classes,” Kohler said.

Computer Science Professor Krzysztof Z. Gajos said the increase in space will enable faculty members to better accommodate the growing student demand.

“Teaching a 300-person class is neither pleasant nor effective, so I think for everyone’s benefit, it would be better if we had more classes, smaller classes, or some more specialized classes,” Gajos said. “Right now, people who take CS 181 come with very different preparations and very different expectations, so there’s definitely room for more courses."

Doshi-Velez said she shared Kohler’s optimism about SEAS’s upcoming expansion into Allston.

“It’s going to allow us a lot more space to grow our faculty, and growing in these AI areas is definitely something that is part of our future growth plans,” she said.

—Staff writer Ruth A. Hailu can be reached at ruth.hailu@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @ruth_hailu_.

—Staff writer Amy L. Jia can be reached at amy.jia@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @AmyLJia.

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