Your essay should not have your name on it, just your student number.


Essays (60% of the marks for this course) are due by midnight of the due date. All submissions should be emailed to the course email. Essays should not be longer than specified, typed, double spaced. You should consult sources other than the course readings: for pointers, see the references in the readings. The Encylopedia of Cognitive Science and the MIT Encyclopedia of Cognitive Science (both in reference at Porter Library) are good places to start. Indicate your sources. Include a word count. You can use any reference style you like, but indicate all your sources.

As stated in the syllabus, for missing deadlines related to picking topics, you will receive a penalty of -1 mark (1% of the course final grade) per day for the related assignment. For missing deadlines for handing in assignments, you will receive a penalty of -1 mark (1% of the course final grade) per day. Assignments will not be accepted after 1 week. In cases like serious illness or family emergency you must provide appropriate, official documentation to avoid late penalties.

The penalty for plagiarism (passing another person's work off as your own) is a course grade of F and referral to the Associate Dean.

See: How to avoid plagiarism

Essays will be evaluated on the basis of:

  1. Research: Use resources beyond the textbook and class readings.
  2. Writing: Write intelligibly.
  3. Understanding: Demonstrate that you have mastered the relevant concepts
  4. Argument: Make a compelling case for the answer or analysis you prefer, and consider alternative answers. Essays will be graded on the quality of the argument, not on the particular conclusion you reach.

The format does not matter, but make sure that you indicate all your sources, including Web sites. This is a research essay so you should use 5-10 sources in addition to the readings. Include at least one reference to the readings.

Midterm Essay

Length: 5 pages (1500 words) Essay due date: Oct 30

For the midterm essay you should provide a critical analysis of this definition of intelligence.

Definition: A very general mental capability that, among other things, involves the ability to reason, plan, solve problems, think abstractly, comprehend complex ideas, learn quickly and learn from experience. It is not merely book learning, a narrow academic skill, or test-taking smarts. Rather, it reflects a broader and deeper capability for comprehending our surroundings—"catching on," "making sense" of things, or "figuring out" what to do. (Mainstream Science on Intelligence (1994) as quoted in wikipedia)

A critical analysis should discuss both the strengths and weaknesses of the target material. Strengths and weaknesses should be demonstrated clearly through argument (not just pointed out). Specify your overall conclusions as your thesis clearly in the first paragraph, as per standard formal essay form.

Final Essay

Length: 10 pages (3000 words) Topic due date: Nov 13 Essay due date: Dec 4

The final essay will require the defence of a hypothesis regarding the relative strengths and weaknesses of 3 different intelligent systems, one each of human, animal, and machine. A 1-2 sentence formulation must be emailed to the course email for approval by the topic deadline. Once approved the topic will be posted to the website and no longer available. Check the website before submitting your topic for approval.

Your essay MUST have the following explicit headings:

  1. The issue. State the question you are trying to answer concerning the similarities and differences among machines, humans, and animals.
  2. Alternatives. State possible answers to your question.
  3. Evidence. Describe whatever evidence is relevant to the different potential answers.
  4. Conclusion. On the basis of the evidence for the different alernatives, argue for what you see as the best answer to the question.

Essays not using these headings will be penalized 25% of the essay grade.

Essay Topics

Pick one from A, B, or C

A. Compare intelligence in machines, humans, and other animals with respect to one of the following topics. Feel free to narrow the topic down to some more specific issue, and to consider specific machines, animals, and human capacities.

  1. Perception
  2. Imagery
  3. Problem solving
  4. Learning
  5. Analogy
  6. Emotion
  7. Action
  8. Language
  9. Creativity
  10. The self

How to narrow down the topic:
After choosing one of the topics, you can narrow it down to particular aspects and entitites (human, computer, animal). For example, you could narrow perception down to sound, the computer down to SIRI, and the animal down to dogs. Imagery could be narrowed down to visual, auditory, etc. Learning could be narrowed down to supervised or unsupervised, or to teaching. Analogy could be narrowed down to intelligence test type analogies (A is to B as C is to what?). Emotion could be narrowed down to empathy, and so on.

How to translate the topic into an essay with the issue-alternatives-evidence structure:
Once you pick the aspect and entitities, the issue becomes: How similar and different are the entities with respect to the aspect? Alternatives could include:

  • The entities have basically the same capacities for the aspect.
  • Humans are much better than the computer or the animal.
  • Humans, computers, and animals are all good, but use different processing.
  • Etc.

The crucial part is to assemble evidence and argue for the alternative that is best supported by it.

B. Discuss one of the following ethical issues.

  1. Should human-level or superior artificial intelligence be allowed to develop? Using what you have learned about human intelligence, discuss the feasibility of the development of equal or better AI. If superintelligent machines are a threat to humans, how might they be prevented?
  2. What are the implications of the theories of intelligence discussed in this course for the question of ethical obligations toward non-human animals? Take into account pain, suffering, emotions, and consciousness.

C. Propose your own topic. Submit a proposal (maximum 1-page) in class by the topic deadline indicating the question you want to answer and some relevant sources.

Use of pronouns

Avoid gender-biased pronouns such as the generic "he" or "she". Try not use "they" or "their" as singular. In English, gender neutrality can almost always be achieved by using plurals. Example: "When people care about their friends" instead of "If someone cares about his friends" or "If someone cares about their friends".

William Safire's rules for good writing

No sentence fragments. Avoid run-on sentences they are hard to read. A writer must not shift your point of view. Reserve the apostrophe for it's proper use and omit it when its not needed. Write all adverbial forms correct. In their writing, everyone should make sure that their pronouns agree with its antecedent. Use the semicolon properly, use it between complete but related thoughts; and not between an independent clause and a mere phrase. Don't use no double negatives. Also, avoid awkward or affected alliteration. If I've told you once, I've told you a thousand times: Resist hyperbole. If any word is improper at the end of a sentence, a linking verb is. Avoid commas, that are not necessary. Verbs has to agree with their subjects. Avoid trendy locutions that sound flaky. And don't start a sentence with a conjunction. The passive voice should never be used. Writing carefully, dangling participles should be avoided. Unless you are quoting other people's exclamations, kill all exclamation points!!! Never use a long word when a diminutive one will do. Proofread carefully to see if you any words out. Use parallel structure when you write and in speaking. You should just avoid confusing readers with misplaced modifiers. Place pronouns as close as possible, especially in long sentences-such as those of ten or more words-to their antecedents. Eschew dialect, irregardless. Remember to never split an infinitive. Take the bull by the hand and don't mix metaphors. Don't verb nouns. Always pick on the correct idiom. Never, ever use repetitive redundancies. "Avoid overuse of 'quotation "marks."'" Never use prepositions to end a sentence with. Last but not least, avoid clichés like the plague.