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Connecting Humanities and Technology

Building a Twitter bot? Yes, please. How about drawing a Sierpinski triangle using the programming language Python?

Intrigued by how humans and technology are guided by each other, Jackie Yeh, a first-year student majoring in psychology, is thinking long term about her newfound Python skills and how she can use them to design statistical and data models in psychology later in her college career.

Students who want to work with creative topics, hands-on projects and essential computer science skills — but don’t necessarily have a programming background — are now able to build a foundational skill set for growth into confident and capable creators, regardless of the course of study they ultimately pursue.

We want to give students extremely strong skills that can’t be outsourced — skills in thinking, skills in creating.

Bringing high-tech know-how together with the humanities and social sciences is the aim of the Digital Intelligence training program, a collaboration between the Institute for Advanced Computational Science and the Colleges of Arts and Sciences and Engineering and Applied Sciences. The program is the first of its kind in New York State.

Launched in 2019, the Digital Intelligence training program was designed to educate students for today’s high-tech marketplace by creating programs that cross the computer science/engineering divide, uniquely incorporating arts, humanities and social sciences disciplines.

The program continues to expand, recently adding two sections to its introductory class, IAE 101: Introduction to Digital Intelligence, and interdisciplinary project-based research opportunities for students ready to continue their skill development.

IAE 101, co-taught in the fall 2019 semester by Elyse Graham, assistant professor of English, and Christopher Kane, research assistant professor in computer science, provides hands-on opportunities for students to learn basic programming skills in a creative context.

“We want to give students extremely strong skills that can’t be outsourced — skills in thinking, skills in creating,” Graham said. “These students have much more freedom to reshape the world they find themselves in if they’re aware of the norms, intentions and ideas of the people who built that world — including the information space around us.”

Graham said that IAE 101 has provided invaluable professional development, especially for graduate students at a time when the digital humanities are expanding in the job market.

“Innovative educational paradigms like the Digital Intelligence training program will help prepare students to creatively co-exist with AI systems,” said Fotis Sotiropoulos, Dean, College of Engineering and Applied Sciences. “By fusing computer science and engineering disciplines with humanities and social sciences, we can provide students the critical thinking and cross-cultural understanding that will be required in the AI driven economy of the future.”    

Kane, who has a PhD in philosophy, is a prime example of the connection between the humanities and technology.

“The same style of thinking is at work in both disciplines — the same approach you bring to building an argument in philosophy is what you use when building a program,” he said. “It’s enjoyable to see the students first begin to understand the principles of programming, and help them through the process of understanding how we use abstract representation to actually produce real behavior.”

“The digital intelligence training program blends technological aptitude and data literacy with creativity, empathy and ethics — skills that today’s employers in the high-tech sector are looking for,” said Nicole S. Sampson, Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. “The program is also an attractive option for those already in the workforce who wish to enhance their career opportunities with microcredentials acquired through project-based team learning.”

The introductory class has been well-received by students, who were asked to provide feedback regarding their expectations.

“The humanities help paint the bigger picture, putting students in the shoes of past programmers and how they came up with ideas to make advancements in technology,” said Priyanka Kaur ’23, who is considering a pre-med track. “The class inspires creativity and thoughtfulness.”