Course Syllabus


Dr. Vial Office:  Iliff 109
Winter 2020 Phone: 303-765-3166
Office Hours:  by appointment E-mail:


Instructor: Ted Vial

Course Description

Course Description

What is “artificial” about artificial intelligence? This question turns the issues, fears, and hopes of AI back onto ourselves. Is AI biased? Is that bad? Can we use AI to combat human biases? Will humans one day be cyborgs? Or is being a cyborg part of what has always made us human (do we use tools, or have tools play always played a role in defining what we are)? Will it be possible one day to download our minds onto a silicon chip and thus live forever, as Larry Page, one of Google’s founders, hopes and believes? What kind of mind could be downloaded? Is a mind more than information? Is embodiment in its various forms (including race and gender) part of what makes humans and their minds human? What kind of implicit theory of the self is buried in Page's hope? This course is an introduction to artificial intelligence--what it is, how it has developed, and important issues it raises. It draws on the rich resources theology and philosophy to think through important and perennial questions of what it means to be human that AI demands we confront in novel ways.

Course Goals

  1. Understand current forms of AI, what it can and cannot do, and consider ethical and social issues it raises.
  2. Have familiarity with the key people and concepts in the history and contemporary world of AI.
  3. Have the tools to enter into conversations and policy discussions of AI at a sophisticated level.
  4. Understand a range of religious and philosophical resources that address the questions raised by AI in ways critical to discussions of AI in the public sphere, and to the coders and data scientists developing AI, who typically operate without awareness of these resources.
  5. Gain elementary exposure to using AI, particularly as it can be useful to scholarship.

Course Materials

Links to course materials are provided on the Canvas Discussion page for each week.

Suggested resources:

The University of Helsinki has a free online course to introduce as many people in the world as possible to AI (their goal--for 1% of living humans on the planet to take this course). It's pretty good:

A book just out by Janelle Shane (Denver author, BTW) called You Look Like a Thing and I Love You is the best intro to some of the technical ways AI works for people with zero technical background that I have seen. She has a blog (AI Weirdness) where she trains AI algorithms to do things like come up with new names for cats, recipes, and pick-up lines (hence the title). 


Information you should pay attention to:

Resource page

Course Requirements, Grading, and Accommodations

Degree Learning Goals

JDP Learning Outcomes

Overview and Objectives


Discussion Guidelines

Paper Guidelines


Writing Conventions

Course Summary:

Date Details