This fall, the University of New Hampshire’s Durham philosophy department is set to offer a three-course cognate and major specialization in the philosophy of business, innovation and technology. The set will focus on artificial intelligence, business ethics, neuroscience, economics and other topics.

“Part of the impetus for this program was the philosophy department’s existing strengths in the areas of philosophy of science and technology, business ethics, neuroscience and consciousness, artificial intelligence, and economic philosophy,” philosophy department chair Nick Smith said. “We have world-class researchers in all of these areas and have been teaching discussion-based courses engaging these issues for decades.”

Courses available will include PHIL 421 Philosophy and the Arts; 424 Science, Technology and Society: The Future of Humanity; 431 Business Ethics; 436 Social and Political Philosophy; 444 Remaking Nature: The Ethics and Politics of Genetic Engineering; 447 Artificial Intelligence: Robots and People; 630 Neuroscience and Philosophy; and 660 Law, Medicine and Ethics, among others. 

Upcoming approved philosophy seminars will include neuroscience, evolution, happiness and economic philosophy. The input of UNH students was helpful.

“In various ways student demand drove this process,” Smith said. “Students appreciate that we are living through an age of rapid technological acceleration on many fronts – artificial intelligence, labor automation, biotechnology and social media are transforming society in ways that aren’t always obviously good. Students report that they feel like they are living inside of science fiction these days, and they really want a venue to seriously study and discuss and these developments. Where is all of this emphasis on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) taking us? How can we steer emerging technology toward positively serving humanity, rather than feeling like technology is in the driver’s seat of civilization? Philosophy has been around for thousands of years considering the meanings of humanity, and its methods are very helpful for grounding discussions of all of these cutting-edge technologies.”

Smith stressed that the knowledge that can be gained from the specialization and the cognate can aid students in many lucrative careers. 

“Our students have gone on to senior positions at Apple, Google and other Silicon Valley (and local!) tech opportunities,” Smith said. “The philosophical training serves them very well in these careers, and it is helpful to remember that many innovators in these fields have been philosophers and logicians. We also send a steady stream of our majors to top law schools, and these students often work at the intersections of tech policy and finance.”

Smith also pointed out the benefit of combining courses and disciplines.

“Many of our students find double majoring with philosophy and another field to be especially advantageous for their career,” he said. “Philosophy and economics, for example, or philosophy and engineering have been combinations that have served students very well.

“These students want to make a living while being part of the solutions to the many challenges faced by their generation,” Smith said.

The department chair also cites two other students who have used their curriculum to address contemporary issues that are on the minds of many.

“Consider two recent SURF/IROP projects from philosophy majors in these areas,” he said. “Andrew Ware—a double major in philosophy and economics–studied at Cambridge’s Center for Existential Risk and help propose policy regarding how AI can address global resource allocation. [Junior] Dylan Wheeler is a double major in philosophy and information technology, and he’s working in a SURF grant this summer on AI and misinformation campaigns (especially video ‘deep fakes’).”

“The new three-course cognate and a major specialization in the philosophy of business, innovation, and technology get me especially excited about UNH’s curriculum,” Wheeler said.  “The future of humanity is a particularly important topic for any college student investing substantial sums of money into their future careers, especially those students involved with fast-paced industries like technology and business.  As we all know, innovation shows no signs of stopping and many world-transforming technologies including artificial intelligence, labor automation, and genetic engineering are being spear-headed by massive corporations with access to a copious amount of data and computing power.”

“I’m learning about these emerging topics now and building the skills and knowledge base I’ll need to navigate the ever-changing environment of technology and innovation,” Wheeler said. “The work I’m doing now in Professor Nick Smith’s class about the future of technology and my summer research on deepfakes will undoubtedly form a solid foundation for my future career as a technological innovator.”