PHIL250-24S2 (C) Semester Two 2024

Turing: From the Computer Revolution to the Philosophy of AI

15 points

Start Date: Monday, 15 July 2024
End Date: Sunday, 10 November 2024
Withdrawal Dates
Last Day to withdraw from this course:
  • Without financial penalty (full fee refund): Sunday, 28 July 2024
  • Without academic penalty (including no fee refund): Sunday, 29 September 2024


This course tells you (nearly) everything you ever wanted to know about Alan Turing, the birth of the computer, and the Philosophy of Artificial Intelligence. It is a problem-based course, equally suitable for Arts, Science, Engineering, and Law students.

Turing was a computer scientist before Computer Science existed, and also a mathematician and philosopher. At the turn of the millennium, 45 years after his death, Time magazine listed him among the twentieth century’s 100 greatest minds, alongside the Wright brothers, Albert Einstein, DNA-busters Crick and Watson, and the discoverer of penicillin Alexander Fleming. Turing’s achievements during his short lifetime were legion. Best known as the genius who broke Germany’s most secret codes during the war of 1939-45, Turing was also the father of the modern computer. Today all who click, tap, or touch to open are familiar with the impact of his ideas. Turing envisaged a ‘universal computing machine’, whose function could effortlessly be transformed from mathematical expert to text editor to chess opponent—or anything else that we have the skill to pin down in the form of an app or program. Like many great ideas, this one now seems as obvious as the wheel and the arch, but with this single invention—the stored program universal computer—Turing changed the way we live. As if that weren’t enough, he also pioneered what we now call Artificial Intelligence and Artificial Life.

The course topics include: Who was Turing and why is he so famous? Why is he regarded by so many as the father of the computer? Can computers solve every (well-defined) mathematical problem, and if so does that mean that computers can do everything that the human brain can do? Will computers built from artificial human-like neurons be as powerful as the human brain? What is the Imitation Game? Is Artificial Intelligence achievable, and what are the philosophical counter-arguments? Will scientists be able to build ‘child machines’ that grow up much like human children? Must robots lack distinctive human characteristics, such as free will, consciousness, or emotion? If ultra-intelligent computers are created, what then? Could a human being survive death by porting his or her mind’s software into a computer, or storing it in the cloud? What is a computer—what is the difference between an information-processor and a food-processor? Are biological growth and evolution essentially computational processes? Is the whole universe a computer?

Learning Outcomes

  • Why should computer scientists study philosophy? This course will give you an understanding of the bigger conceptual, ethical, and historical picture in which computer programming occurs—as well as an interdisciplinary perspective on computer science. Moreover, today’s employers expect computer scientists to have the skills taught in subjects like Philosophy: critical reasoning, writing and analysing text reports, and thinking outside the box.

    Why should philosophers study the philosophy of computing? This field, now widely studied internationally, is one of the most interesting 21st century developments in philosophy, with courses at most leading overseas institutions. Turing started a fascinating area of modern philosophy.

    In this course you will:

  • Learn in detail about Turing’s contributions to philosophy and computer science
  • Acquire a detailed knowledge of selected core topics in the philosophy of computing
  • Enhance your ability to think independently, systematically, and creatively
  • Improve your verbal skills and analytic reasoning skills
    • University Graduate Attributes

      This course will provide students with an opportunity to develop the Graduate Attributes specified below:

      Critically competent in a core academic discipline of their award

      Students know and can critically evaluate and, where applicable, apply this knowledge to topics/issues within their majoring subject.

      Employable, innovative and enterprising

      Students will develop key skills and attributes sought by employers that can be used in a range of applications.


Any 15 points at 100 level in PHIL, COSC, LING, MATH, or
PSYC, or
any 60 points at 100 level from the Schedule V of the BA or the BSc.


Equivalent Courses

Timetable 2024

Students must attend one activity from each section.

Lecture A
Activity Day Time Location Weeks
01 Monday 16:00 - 18:00 A6 Lecture Theatre
15 Jul - 25 Aug
9 Sep - 20 Oct
Lecture B
Activity Day Time Location Weeks
01 Wednesday 12:00 - 13:00 A4 Lecture Theatre
15 Jul - 25 Aug
9 Sep - 20 Oct

Course Coordinator

Diane Proudfoot

Contact Diane for further information.


Please check the course LEARN page for further details and updates.

Textbooks / Resources

Jack Copeland et al., The Turing Guide (Oxford University Press, 2017).  Copies are available in the University (UBS) Bookshop; the Central Library has an electronic copy, and there will also be a hard copy on 3-hour loan in the High Demand collection.

Core readings for weeks 7-12 will all be available in Learn.

Indicative Fees

Domestic fee $844.00

International fee $3,950.00

* All fees are inclusive of NZ GST or any equivalent overseas tax, and do not include any programme level discount or additional course-related expenses.

For further information see Humanities .

All PHIL250 Occurrences

  • PHIL250-24S2 (C) Semester Two 2024
  • PHIL250-24S2 (D) Semester Two 2024 (Distance)