LONDON – Tess Buckley, 23, lives in a small town outside of Toronto, Canada, but when she decided to pursue a master’s degree in philosophy and artificial intelligence, she found her dream program 3,000 miles away in the United Kingdom.
On Friday afternoon, Buckley was among the postgraduates to accept diplomas at Northeastern University London’s inauguration ceremony at Senate House, a striking art deco building in central London.
The bachelor’s degree in North East London takes place in September.
As a student speaker, Buckley addressed the alumni, their families, faculty, staff and friends of the university in the packed auditorium.
“We stand on the edge of innovation when we look at artificial intelligence, the impact of technology on politics, the creative potential of AI and its ethical implications,” she said.
Photo by Carmen Valino for Northeastern University Photo by Carmen Valino for Northeastern University Photo by Carmen Valino for Northeastern University Photo by Carmen Valino for Northeastern University Northeastern University London’s Postgraduate Ceremony was held at Senate House on Friday. Photos by Carmen Valino for Northeastern University
Buckley said she learned more about what it means to be human by studying machines and AI.
“These industries have been here for years,” she said. “But we are a collective of individuals holding them accountable and taking a path less traveled or, frankly, not traveled at all.”
British philosopher and author Anthony Clifford Grayling welcomed the graduates and congratulated them. He described Northeastern’s program as “on the pulse of time”.
Buckley, whose master’s thesis was on machine distortion and ableism in biotechnology, received her bachelor’s degree from McGill University in Montreal, Canada. Originally planning to do her Masters in Music Therapy and Jazz at the University of California, Berkeley, she instead made her way to the UK for the first time in September 2021.
Photo by Carmen Valino for Northeastern University Photo by Carmen Valino for Northeastern University Photo by Carmen Valino for Northeastern University Northeastern University London’s postgraduate ceremony was held at Senate House on Friday. Photos by Carmen Valino for Northeastern University
“During my sophomore year at McGill, I happened to be taking a course in philosophy of technology and just couldn’t leave the library,” she told Northeastern Global News after Friday’s ceremony. “Computational creativity really appealed to me.”
So she spent the next two months googling masters courses in philosophy and AI.
“But I couldn’t find anything at that intersection,” she said. “It was mainly about applied ethics and law and technology. When I found out about Northeastern University in London, I realized this was my dream program.”
Now in its third year, the Masters in Philosophy and AI was the first of its kind in the world when it was launched, according to Brian Ball, Head of Faculty and Associate Professor of Philosophy at Northeastern University London.
“I remember my students once giggling a bit when they brought to my attention a press release from the University of Cambridge announcing the world’s first philosophy and AI program – except we had already started this course a year earlier” said Ball .
Nineteen of the 25 postgraduates received master’s degrees in philosophy and AI. In addition, three masters in philosophy, two masters in digital politics and sustainable development and one masters in AI with a human face.
Northeastern’s philosophy and AI program has “attracted a huge diversity of intellectual backgrounds,” Ball said, which he appreciates because the students learn from each other.
“We have bankers, architects, art curators, journalists, and graduate students straight out of philosophy,” Ball said you get a feel for what makes them work.”
Several students who graduated on Friday began their studies at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Isabella West, who works at London architecture firm Studio Egret West, found herself at home with her partner and their two children, aged 9 and 14.
“I’ve struggled during lockdown with the four of us at home,” West said. “I needed to do something for my brain, so I started this master’s in September 2020.”
West’s master’s thesis dealt with smart cities and the use of AI in creativity.
“I’m researching this now, both for practical applications at Studio Egret West and for an exhibition,” she said.
Dominic Richmond, 25, from south London, was also struggling to find a university offering a master’s degree in philosophy and AI – until he found north-east London.
“It was fantastic,” he said, “we’re in the beating heart of London, the campus is amazing. And six months after completing my degree, I’m already seeing the professional benefits of having been promoted at Brainpool AI, a network of more than 500 artificial intelligence professionals where I work.”
Although she misses her family and the great outdoors, Buckley has remained in the UK since completing her studies and was recently appointed lead AI ethics analyst at London-based startup EthicsGrade. In this role, she analyzes AI governance and corporate digital responsibility.
“I’m so happy to already be applying my degree,” she said.