Why you want a CS + Humanities degree

4/1/2024 Reva Jethwani

Written by Reva Jethwani

CS + X series by Women in Computer Science at Illinois

The Value of Humanities in Tech

When we think about philosophy, endless pages of philosophical theory and debate often come to mind. As we imagine literature, ethical theory, and epistemology, we envision related fields and point to law, history, and sociology.

However, we often neglect the paradoxically intertwined subject of computer science. CS + Philosophy majors are one of the larger CS + X majors here on campus and are often faced with questions like, “Philosophy? With computer science? Interesting combination,” or “How do those go together?”

Philosophy and computer science are interlinked in more ways than one would imagine. The foundations of computer science lie in logic—without it, software developers could not fathom the most basic functions. Similarly, the origins of philosophical thought lie in logic—what is an argument or a theory without elementary reasoning?

With the exponential growth of artificial intelligence and technology as a whole, there is an increasing need for the developers behind the screen to have a deep understanding of ethics regarding technology, the inner workings of machines, and how they connect to human consciousness.

Why CS + Philosophy?

There are several paths one can adopt within this major—the appeal of the major lies in flexibility and innovation, especially when considering future career options. Ayush Desai, a freshman in CS + Philosophy, is interested in the social aspect of information technology — specifically, the policy that impacts how we interact with it. The major’s curriculum and higher-level ethics classes will allow him to gain a deep understanding of this niche field and how we can begin tackling policy issues in technology. Other routes include privacy and security, modern questions about logic and ethics, or fields in cognition and artificial intelligence.

What can I expect from classes?

CS + Philosophy includes a combination of computer science and philosophy core classes. The philosophy side deviates more from the traditional philosophy that one would expect. The curriculum starts with the more technical aspects of machines, such as logic foundations and the beginnings of Turing machines. These subjects are flown around in “Philosophical Foundations of Computer Science” (PHIL 222). In their second semester, students typically take “Minds and Machines” (PHIL 223). These courses tend to be more technical, but as students progress, they can choose their path, taking classes from “Metaphysics” to “Philosophy of Psychology.” 

“Just enjoy it! Be ready to learn!” Desai says.

Opportunities on Campus and Post-Grad for CS + Philosophy

For CS + Philosophy students, the opportunities after graduation are endless. A popular option is pursuing a graduate degree—this could include human-computer interaction, artificial intelligence, information science, computer programming, or even law school!

An exciting aspect of CS + X majors is that they're all readily prepared for typical CS-related industry jobs. Software engineering, UI/UX design, and Mobile App development are accessible options to all CS + X majors. However, innovative intersections in career positions could include policy-making at tech companies, informatics research, and extensive positions in artificial intelligence fields. As openAI expands, CS + Philosophy majors will likely be the perfect candidates for these novel ventures.

On campus, students can partake in any philosophy-related research like cognition and brain foundations. These topics are provoking segments that can easily connect to machine-related topics.

One could also join clubs and organizations, such as SIG Policy, that introduce the connection between the two fields of study. The iSchool holds a social sensing intelligence lab as well. Illinois encourages students to seek these interdependent relationships and broaden their horizons. The opportunities are endless!

Like CS + Philosophy, CS + Anthropology students are often asked how the two pair together. Per the Illinois website, “Anthropologists use computational tools and algorithms to analyze large amounts of data either gathered from a field site or by studying online social communities and social networks.” Along with the technical foundations of computer science, CS + Anthropology majors can use the knowledge of how societies interact and communicate to inform the design of user interfaces.

One major gap in software development today is finding the best design for human-centered software. Without a thorough background and understanding of how humans live and communicate as social beings, it can be difficult for software engineers to develop technology to fit human demands accurately.

However, CS + Anthropology majors, with an extensive background in the organization of societies, can properly bridge this gap and propagate true breakthroughs in the field.“This major would give me a better understanding of the dynamics within cultures and societies to design and ideate technology for, ” said Austin Sun, a CS + Anthropology alumni. Truly, it is the underdog of CS + X — the value it brings is astonishing.

What can I expect from CS + Anthropology? 

Anthropology itself is an incredibly extensive major. Students can concentrate on biological, sociocultural, or linguistic anthropology with archaeology being a popular subset as well. Within the CS + Anthropology curriculum, students take core CS and Anthropology classes, where they can choose between any of these concentrations or mix them up. The most valuable aspect of this study is its flexibility — the combination of classes chosen is entirely up to the student's discretion.

Sun asserts, “[The] anthro major combines a robust technical education with a powerful knowledge of the social sciences.” 

What are classes like?

Unlike the CS + Philosophy major, there are few blended classes in the CS + Anthropology curriculum. Students can pick their core Anthropology courses, which could lie in any of the four concentrations. Students interested in Linguistic Anthropology could take “Talking in Culture” (ANTH 270), and those preferring Biological Anthropology could register for “Human Origins and Culture” (ANTH 102). Beyond these foundations, students can take any higher-level anthropology courses offered at Illinois, granting true flexibility in the field of study. While some might look down upon the lack of blended classes (CS involved) in CS + Anthropology, there is little need for it. The critical thinking and background that anthropology brings are sufficient to inform connections between user interface and design. Perhaps we will see more interconnected courses as the major becomes more established.

Opportunities on Campus and Post-Grad for CS + Anthropology

As mentioned, all CS + X majors are prepared for industry positions in CS-related fields! The most obvious application of CS + Anthropology lies in UI/UX design, but careers in AI/ML, information, and language technology are also popular. The anthropology side prepares one for nearly every career in technology, allowing them to apply it however they prefer. There is a discourse about applying CS + Anthropology in Archaeology fields, specifically for excavation technology.

Sun says some powerful and specialized classes on campus are Human-Computer Interaction for Machine Learning, which “examine[s] the close interaction between machine learning and the people they serve,” and Social Visualizations, which “explored topics such as visualization of social data and social network theory.”

Interested in learning more? Check out these resources:

Articles courtesy of the Illinois Women in Computer Science student group at The Grainger College of Engineering at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.

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This story was published April 1, 2024.