'It’s incredible that I get this opportunity in this little city at the bottom of the world...'
Studying towards a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science and Philosophy
Aspiring to contribute to the field of Artificial Intelligence, Sam’s degree gives him the opportunity to discover how computers can simulate thinking and learning the same way as humans do.
However, Sam initially thought of Computer Science and Philosophy as two distinct subjects when he first started at UC, and took on both as different interests.
‘The two fields have turned out to be much more similar than I first thought! Together, they are giving me the mental tools to go after my dreams,’ he says.
‘I found Computer Science – most unlike the mindless programming that I initially wrote it off as – to be the study of raw problem solving. The problems often seem simple, but the quest for a solution leads into deep and interesting waters. I loved that there were no barriers to entry, nor formulae to memorise. Philosophy was an exciting exploration of the bigger questions, which forced me to reconsider the way I look at the world and what I used to take for granted.
‘Now, I can see that my interest in the nexus of Philosophy and Computer Science also stems from their shared focus on reasoning, analysis and expression of ideas.’
Exposure to the ideas of Alan Turing, and the philosophy of computing and AI has fed into his passions, especially being ‘literally taught by world experts’ on these topics at UC.
‘It’s incredible that I get this opportunity in this little city at the bottom of the world! What I love most about AI is that it incorporates both a fascinating exploration of what is required for intelligence and consciousness, with the potential for vast improvements in how we live.
‘We are already seeing its impacts in fields as diverse as reducing food wastage to detecting early signs of eye disease, and in the future I hope that AI will be developed with the benefit of humanity as a whole in mind.’
These kinds of discussions are what really interest him. When living in College House accommodation for his first two years of uni, he organised a discussion group inviting key speakers from the community to present to students; including physicists, authors, and philosophers.
‘I was amazed that I could just ask and these wonderful people would give up their time and share their expertise with us,’ he says.
Later Sam will have the opportunity to meet even more experts in the field by going on an exchange to the University of Oxford, which he is ‘looking forward to beyond words’.
Sam’s pursuits aren’t only intellectual, however – outside of studying, he enjoys being a part of the UCCC (kayaking club) and Student Volunteer Army, tramping and skiing, and learning French.
‘I chose UC for the academic stimulation and the great outdoors. This place feeds all the different parts of myself. The country around Christchurch is just asking to be explored, and I return with a clearer mind. More importantly, it’s on trips, away from the distractions of regular life, that I find I am able to deepen and form new bonds with friends.’
In his future career, Sam hopes to potentially go into teaching to inspire others the same way he has been with UC. He’s already getting a start organising a volunteer group to read to children in local primary schools.
As such, his biggest advice to other uni students is to get as much from the opportunity of going to university and learning as possible.
‘Never stop asking questions. I think almost everything that we currently take for granted in philosophy and computer science was once the result of someone’s radical (and probably harshly criticised!) questions. Your lecturers are your best resource, they will give you advice that will change the way you see not only the subject material but also your career direction. Make an effort to get to know them and it will transform your uni experience!’