‘Hey, Siri, Tell Me About the Kettering University AI Minor’

Whether you realize it or not, your life is full of artificial intelligence (AI). 

It’s everywhere from the moment you check your phone in the morning (facial recognition) and leave your house (maps with real-time traffic) to getting through the workday (spelling and grammar checks for email and endless Google searches) and finally wrapping up the evening with a nice binge-watch (recommendations for you on your favorite streaming service). 

Kettering students will have considerable AI awareness, an understanding of the complexities of AI, and can become pioneers working with and developing the latest technologies. The University began offering a minor in AI this year.

“One of the cool things about AI is it’s literally everywhere now,” said Dr. Michael Farmer, Computer Science Department Head. “It’s in transportation with autonomous vehicles and speech recognition with Alexa and Google. We take for granted with Siri and Alexa how much AI is behind that and those engines for us to say, ‘Hey, Alexa, order me more grapefruits!’ 

“That’s actually a pretty complicated conversation you’re having with a machine because it will find you a grocery store near you, and what’s a grapefruit? How many grapefruits does a normal person order so it doesn’t deliver a dump truck of grapefruits? It’s all of these things we just assume, and we take for granted, but there’s a lot of smarts in a simple request that we make.”

When it comes to AI, Farmer said most people focus on machine learning because that’s what is most often covered in the media, but there are four active research areas in AI: search, knowledge representation, reasoning under uncertainty and machine learning. 

The minor features courses in Computer Science and elective options in Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering, Computer Engineering and Data Analytics, making it one of the University's most interdisciplinary minors.

“We have many course options in the minor that can pique students’ interest,” Farmer said.

The new minor got Mechanical Engineering major Ethan Pereira’s ’23 attention. 

“I’ve always been interested in programming and the amazing things that developers are able to do,” he said. “The Computer Science courses are a nice break from the math-intensive engineering courses. On top of that, the rapid development of AI in recent years and witnessing all of the incredible things it can do makes it a very exciting field that I want to be a part of.”

So far, Pereira’s favorite course has been Artificial Intelligence (CS-481), but he’s looking forward to taking Machine Learning and Deep Learning.

He said he enjoyed the open-ended final project, which allowed students to come up with something they would find interesting.

“For the final project, I decided to make a fuzzy logic elevator controller to control the acceleration of the drive motor to smoothly accelerate and decelerate my elevator as it gets closer to its target destination,” Pereira said. “This was a lot of fun because it took ideas I learned from MECH-330 [Dynamic Systems with Vibrations] and applied them to my fuzzy controller. Effectively mixing my major and minor in one assignment.”

After graduation, he hopes to work in robotics and earn his Master’s in Control Systems. 

“It’s a very intriguing and exciting field for me, especially with the tools to mix and match my understanding of engineering and AI systems to get optimal control of complex systems,” Pereira said.

He said he doesn’t see AI overtaking conventional engineering, but it will continue to become more prevalent.

“Ultimately, I think it’s important to diversify and expand my foundations of knowledge so that I can have different ideas and approaches to the same problem to reach the best solution,” Pereira said. “AI, to me, is like another form of engineering. It can be used to solve some complex engineering problems, and it doesn’t hurt to have more tools in the toolbox.”

Farmer echoed Pereira’s thoughts on the growing importance of AI.

“Even if you’re not going to be an AI developer, there’s a certain awareness in AI that you need in order to be an effective engineer in almost anything,” Farmer said. “In another five years, you’ll probably need to have an AI understanding for literally anything you need to work on because you’ll run into it somewhere.”