Last week Oxford announced a joint computer science and philosophy undergraduate degree. The only thing surprising about this announcement is that it’s taken this long to marry these courses of study. Although there’s a bit of hostility towards philosophy in the Hacker News thread on the subject, there’s a general agreement that it’s a worthwhile idea.

How will the program work? And will there be any study materials for us to play along with at home? Read on.

The Program

What exactly will the program cover? According to Oxford’s website:

The programme is largely modelled on the Computer Science half of the “Mathematics and Computer Science” programme and the Philosophy half of the “Mathematics and Philosophy” programme. The first year of the degree covers core material in both subjects, including a bridging course studying Alan Turing’s pioneering work on computability and artificial intelligence. Later years include a wide range of options, with an emphasis on courses near the interface between the two subjects. The fourth year provides you with the opportunity to study advanced topics and to undertake a more in-depth research project.

There may be a more practical downside the combination, however. A Hacker News commenter using the name user24 writes:

I completed my MSc in Computer Science at Oxford in 2009. My undergrad degree was a joint honours IT and Philosophical Studies BA (UoW Lampeter).

From my (limited) knowledge of how comlab/Oxford works, it looks like students will be splitting their time between the philosophy department and comlab.

I can’t quite see how they’re marrying the two together. I know from my first degree that it’s a great combination – there’s more crossover than you’d initially think. But it does rather seem as though you’d just be splitting your time between two very different departments, rather than literally studying the two subjects in harmony.

Play From Home

There’s no mention yet of MIT-like open courseware. But if, like most of us, you won’t be able to take this program at Oxford you might be interested in the site Less Wrong. It’s run by Future of Humanity Institute, a group at Oxford that some on Hacker News speculate may have something to do with this new program. In particular check out References & Resources for LessWrong, a treasure trove for autodidacts.

klint finley