Artificial Intelligence and Cognitive Science - or a combination of the two - are amongst the most exciting and valuable subjects you can study at university. This page is intended to give you some idea of why you might want to choose these subjects for your undergraduate degree, what kind of future such a degree might qualify you for and where you should look for further information.
Why study AI or CogSci?
An interesting and practical degree When choosing a course at university, many people are torn between the academic approach - what subject really interests me? - and the practical approach - what subject will provide a good basis for my career? AI and CogSci are two subjects that can easily fill both these criteria.
Depending on what course you study, you will have the opportunity to explore a wide range of theoretical and practical fields ranging from philosophical approaches and theory of mind to much more technical subjects and you can often have a lot of freedom to choose the subjects that interest you most.
At the end, even if you have chosen some of the more abstract options, you will still have a degree that contains a significant practical component and that is highly rated by employers.
Changing the world AI technology is behind a large numbers of advances that are changing the way we live our lives. Studying AI gives you an insight into how these changes are occurring and what might be happening next and put you in a perfect position to become involved in these changes yourself.
Job Prospects A degree in AI is one of the best qualifications you can have for a technical career and you will learn valuable programming skills. If you want to go into a completely different field, AI is a good general degree as it demonstrates a broad eduction, analytical skills and an enquiring mind.
How can I learn more?
Where can I study these subjects? Many universities have some form of AI or CogSci available. These are often found in the computer science department (AI) or the psychology department (CogSci). A few universities have separate AI or CogSci departments or Informatics departments, which typically comprise AI, CogSci and Computer Science. In many universities, you can study these subjects individually, combined with each other, as part of a different degree (e.g., taking a few AI courses in a Computer Science degree) or as a joint degree with many other unrelated subjects. The approach to these subjects and the possible combinations with other subjects may differ greatly between universities and you are recommended to look into what is on offer carefully before applying. See our courses page for help finding an appropriate undergraduate or postgraduate course. Once you have found a course and a university you might be interested in, you are recommended to contact the department for more information.
What kind of work is being done in these subjects? There is a huge range of work going on in these fields. The central problems of AI include such traits as reasoning, knowledge, planning, learning, communication, perception and the ability to move and manipulate objects. Topics vary from the visually impressive robotics to very technical areas such as mathematical theorem proving, which is used in system verification. Some AI researchers believe in the possibility of strong AI: the belief that we can develop an artificial intelligence that matches or exceeds human intelligence, and which can successfully perform any intellectual task that a human can. This is the view commonly seen in Hollywood films. Other researchers believe in applied AI: that software can be used to perform specific tasks far better than humans, but that this cannot encompass the full range of human cognitive abilities. No one knows for sure which of these will turn out to be correct.
Women in AI Computer related subjects are often thought of as being very male dominated and, for that reason, girls are often put off applying to such courses. However, there are excellent opportunities for women in these subjects and many women have achieved very senior positions and great success in the field. Most courses have a good gender balance and the varied nature of the subjects mean that there is a wide scope for varied interests: these subjects are not dominated by stereotypical male geeks!