Computer Science + Linguistics

If you select a second-choice major other than the Division of General Studies on your application, write a second essay explaining your interest in this major, too. Again, limit your response to 300 to 400 words.

“I’m afraid. Dave, my mind is going,” pleaded HAL 9000 in a monotone voice. Although I was aware of artificial intelligence, watching 2001: A Space Odyssey as a sophomore was the catalyst to my interest in this controversial field.

Specifically, the study of linguistics and its application to computer science fascinates me. With the influx of chatbots, I decided to try talking to Woebot and Eliza, therapy chatbots. I first heard about Woebot after a Stanford researcher discovered that chatting with the bot reduced depressive symptoms in just two weeks. I talked to both Woebot and Eliza, and was immediately aware of the stark differences between how they communicated. While Eliza’s speech was cold and formal, Woebot communicated in an upbeat tone, and soon, I found myself preferring to talk to Woebot.

The way Woebot communicated felt like the way my friends typed, a fact that intrigued me. I used to believe artificial intelligence was like Hal, completely monotone, but talking to Woebot inspired my interest in learning and applying the principles of human conversation to computer science, particularly the nuances involved. Although Woebot was, by far, more user-friendly than Eliza, it’s still learning human nuances and emotions. I’ve often wondered how robots can understand humans and process emotion and tone in language when this skill is often challenging for humans. To me, teaching computers how to accomplish this task would be an innovative avenue of study in computer science.

If artificial intelligence could be trained to understand how humans communicate, then the usefulness of computers can be expanded. By understanding our language, they can better assist people in society, including directing consumers on automated customer service telephone lines or functioning as chatbot therapists, like Woebot, to help people in crisis. Having a free therapist who can help people share their problems without judgment could be instrumental in combating anxiety or depression. While the computer will likely never be able to replace human-to-human therapy, a robot can be available when humans are not. With chatbots like Woebot integrating in our society and computers like HAL becoming more than just science-fiction, the possibilities of how they can improve society is endless, and I want to be a part of this movement.

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