“I wanted to get a broader view on the discipline, rather than primarily focusing on the practical, engineering aspects of AI“
Why Artificial Intelligence?
I first learned about Artificial Intelligence during my previous Master’s in Psychology. AI captivated me as a fascinating fast-growing science full of potentials that, with the right oversight, can provide groundbreaking technologies that can help society and the world as a whole. At the same time, we have to be careful that these advancements do not lead to harmful directions for the humankind. That is why I wish to become a PhD researcher in this field and hopefully combine the powerful technical knowledge of AI with the necessary philosophical guidance.
Why Utrecht University?
I was looking for a place that allowed me to dive deeper into AI (even with limited or no computer science) and that could offer me a broader view on the discipline, whereas most universities generally focus on the more practical, engineering aspects of AI. In Utrecht the master is strongly research-oriented and gives a general perspective on the several different disciplines that make up and characterize AI such as; cognitive science, logic and of course, philosophy. I find this division into different specializations very useful as it allows you to look into the various aspects of AI and their relationships in the broader sense.
What characterizes this Master’s?
The structure of the courses stimulates students to think critically, by examining and discussing the papers of the researchers directly. Of course, this comes at a price: sometimes the course offer is so broad that the specialization into a single topic or its practical aspects has to be sacrificed for this more theoretical and research-oriented perspective. This notwithstanding, in many courses I have been capable of putting concepts that I had previously learned into practice. For example using Game Theory or Logic for the development of intelligent agents or the modeling of their interactions in complex strategic environments.
''The versatility of AI research makes this a multidisciplinary programme"
How did you get interested in this Master?
In the final year of my Bachelor Industrial Design, I started to watch science-fiction movies like ‘Her’ and ‘Ex Machina’. It made me think "why does Artificial Intelligence always has to be like humans in those movies? And why are AI systems in the real world always so extremely practical and not personal?" This was exactly what my final bachelor project was about and what later helped me to choose for the Master's in Artificial Intelligence.
When I was looking for a Master's programme I wanted to do something more theoretical, with more mathematics, than Industrial Design and at the same time I wanted to keep the multidisciplinary way of working that I was used to. The AI Master's programme is indeed very theoretical; we read lots of papers and therefore we get the feel of the different kind of research there is, not just the tools that businesses happen to use. That is what makes the field multidisciplinary. Research within AI reaches much further than you might think, and for that you need some creativity in seeing how it all connects. It is hard to explain, but when you experience it, you will see how many fields are inspired by the field of AI.
What do you like the most?
One of the things I like the most about this programme is that you can choose almost anything, and really create the programme you want. We are free to do electives at many different departments and thanks to that I have already learned a lot about many new areas, such as neuroscience and linguistics. Another aspect that I really enjoy is that the people in the program have very diverse backgrounds. In assignments, projects and presentations, people from different backgrounds show a different approach with different opinions, which is very inspiring. I feel that this programme is a great preparation for going into research. I like research in general but I still don’t know exactly what I want to do when I graduate. What I do know is that, wherever I end up, I want to be able to use the ability to research into different fields even if I am unfamiliar with them at first. Connecting different areas and coming up with new ideas for research related to AI is something I really enjoy and would like to have in my future.
“Learning about all the different fields that are influenced by AI, keep convincing me of the relevance of AI in our society, a great motivation for my studies“
Why did you choose this Master’s?
As a bachelor student, I had a hard time choosing a path for my Master’s. I completed a Bachelor in Mathematics and took many classes in History and Chemistry. I was interested in all three fields, which made choosing a direction complicated. I enjoyed the problem solving nature of History and Mathematics. I liked the fact that Chemistry and History describe the real world. Lastly, I enjoyed the predictive power of the computations in Mathematics and Chemistry. While searching for a master’s where I could combine all these skills, I first considered Computer Science. But I missed the in-depth study of the theoretical background behind algorithms, and wanted to learn more about that. That is when I found out about Artificial Intelligence.
Did you have any hesitations to choose this Master’s?
At first I was skeptical because I thought AI was just a science fiction hype and I was scared it was a very narrow topic for a master’s programme. However, when I found out about all the different courses that the program offers, I changed my mind. The classes offered are very diverse. Some classes focus on theoretical concepts and papers, while other classes are very practical with a focus on projects. The topics off the classes that I have taken in the program range from logic to computer science algorithms and cognitive science. I decided to apply because I believed that this wide variety of classes would be a good preparation for a career in AI related research.
Did the Master’s meet your expectations so far?
When I first started the programme, I was intimidated by the wide range of topics I had to learn about. Many of my class mates had a stronger background in psychology or computer science which made me feel like I wasn’t ready for this program. It has, however, been great to be a part of such a diverse group of students. We all learn from each other and the teachers are considerate of everyone’s academic background. All the different classes made me aware of the variety of fields that are influenced by AI. In this way, I keep getting convinced of the relevance of AI in our society which is a great motivation for my studies.
"Companies really like students from this Master's, because they are trained in both computer science and the social part"
Why Artificial Intelligence?
I did my Bachelor Artificial Intelligence in Nijmegen and wanted to continue with a Artificial Intelligence Master's. I really like reasoning and logic, but the Master's programme in Nijmegen focuses more on psychology. I then found this Master's in Utrecht where they offer a reasoning track, which was exactly what I was looking for.
In the first year you will start with an introduction course in which all tracks of the Master's will be covered. After this block you will decide which track you want to take. The remaining blocks of the year will consist of track related courses and electives. In this way you will be able to combine your specialty with courses that you find interesting.
In your second year you will generally have one block of courses and your thesis. In my case I spent the first half-year in the Czech Republic, because I really wanted to take classes abroad. This is the reason that I have a small delay now. Currently, I am doing my thesis. For my thesis I am studying emotions and see if we can build a model that can be used within agents. This is a really new, but also important field of research. When using for example social robotics in health care, they should at least be able to recognise human emotions.
After this Master I would like to continue and get a second degree, cause I still like studying. Eventually I would like to go into research. A lot of students try to go into software engineering, where they hope to apply the new techniques they have learned in the Master's. Companies really like students from this Master's, because they are trained in both computer science and the social part. Because of this, they are able to act as a bridge between the managers and the computer scientists.
Lucy van Oostveen, alumnus