Re: What are useful for a phd?

From: Philip Goetz (
Date: Tue Dec 05 2006 - 14:26:36 MST

On 12/3/06, Anthony Mak <> wrote:
> NB: I hope my question is not entirely irrevelant to
> this mailing list. But if anyone thinks so, I appologize.
> Question:
> I am about to start my phd and I am in the process of
> thinking what disciplines/sub-disciplines would be useful
> for FAI (Friendly AI)? And what could be the research
> direction? While not planning to base my entire phd on researching on
> FAI, I do hope that part of it will be relevant and thus
> useful to FAI development.

Great question. Becoming a computer science major is probably the
worst thing you can do. Taking math is good, but avoid set theory and
abstract algebra, and take a lot of statistics and probability.

Things in a computer science program not relevant to AI:
Learning how to program in twelve different computer languages
Compiler theory
Operating systems theory
Computer architecture
Complexity theory, other than knowing the diff between O(nlogn) and O(n*n)
   (here I'm using "complexity theory" to refer to i.e. understanding
the difference
   between recursive, recursively enumerable, and co-recursively-enumerable,
   not to "complexity studies" a la the Santa Fe Institute)

Things that people at universities generally teach you about AI, that
I don't think are very useful for AGI:
Game-tree search
How to write a unification algorithm
Natural-language processing
commonsense reasoning, naive physics
philosophy of AI

Possibly useful, but overemphasized:
Lots of traditional symbolic-logic-based representation and deduction
Expert systems

More useful:
agent architectures
psychology, esp. studies of perception, attention, learning, and memory
functional neuroscience
probability theory, Bayes nets
neural networks, optimization, genetic algorithm & programming
signal processing: Fourier transform, wavelets, Kalman filters
data analysis: PCA, ICA, factor analysis, discriminant analysis,
logistic regression, SVMs
dynamical systems theory, artificial life, catastrophy theory or chaos theory

I got a PhD in computer science/artificial intelligence, and the only
class my university offered in Comp Sci that touched on ANY of the
"useful" items was an "introduction to artificial life" course. Do
not trust the university to tell you what you need to know or do! The
university is not looking out for your interests.

If I were to list the skills needed to get and hold a job in the
field, and to get to do interesting work, a similar result would hold.

Remember that the purpose of getting a PhD isn't to learn - it's to get a PhD.

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