ILAS Seminar-E2: Minds and Machines- Can a Machine Think? 

Curriculum: [pdf, updated 2019/04/05]

    • Instructor: Zenas C. Chao (zenas.c.chao at
    • Office: Faculty of Medicine Bldg. E, Room 109 (ext. 9461) 
    • Office Hours:  Students are welcome to arrange appointments by email

      Welcome to “Minds and Machines”! This course examines the nature of mind and the prospect of artificial intelligence. You will have class discussions and debates about issues such as “What is the mind?” and “Can a machine think?” During the course, you will learn to make philosophical and scientific arguments, and to express them in writing and presentation. Final project is to build a LEGO robot for a sumo challenge (no programming experience required).


      • To investigate fundamental issues relating to minds and machines philosophically and scientifically.
      • To express investigation results in discussion, writing, and presentation.
      • To design an autonomous LEGO robot. 
      • To work with others as both a team member and leader.


      • No question is too dumb to ask! 
      • No plagiarism allowed! For homework assignments, you must document all of your source material. If you take any text from somebody else, you must make it clear the text is being quoted and where the text comes from. You must also cite any sources from which you obtain numbers, ideas, or other materials. 
      • Be awake and on time. If you’re more than 15 minutes late, your attendance won’t be taken by the electronic attendance monitoring system. 
      • Late assignments will not be accepted.


      In-class discussion (~40%), midterm project (~30%), final project (~30%).


      You will need to prepare for class discussions. The discussion topics will be announced at least a week earlier so you will have enough time to prepare.


      You will have a group debate. The debate will be graded by the instructor, guest judge(s), and classmates (15 points). After the debate, you will need to submit a short written Debate Report (15 points). The details will be announced early in the semester, and we will have a debate practice in Week #3.

      Debate scoring rubric: 

      Your debate will be evaluated by the following criteria. You can use this as a guideline for your preparation. Also, you will be a judge of other debates in the class, so get familiar with the scoring rubric. The rubric is adapted from debate rubric.


      Levels of performance

      (1, 2, or 3)

      1 point

      2 points

      3 points


      Unorganized data, evidence, and presentation

      Some moments of disorganization of materials

      Organized materials and presentation



      Debate lacked arguments that support proposition

      Less than 3 arguments to support proposition

      3 or more arguments clearly presented to support proposition



      (Statistics, facts, examples, etc.)

      Few or no relevant supporting evidence

      Some relevant evidence given; relevance somewhat questionable

      Debate adequately supported with relevant evidence



      No effective counter arguments made; didn’t directly address opponents’ arguments

      Some effective counter arguments

      Directly address each argument raised by opponent



      Arguments are overlapping, repetitive, or contradictory among teammates

      Each member of the team presented a different argument with minimal overlap

      Each member of the team presented a different that built on previous arguments


      Presentation Style
      (Visual aids, eye contact, tone of voice, gesture, enthusiasm, etc.)

      Few style features used effectively

      Few style features were used effectively

      Most style features were used effectively



      Total points:




      You will do a group project (4~5 people in a team) to design a LEGO robot for a sumo competition. The rule will be announced in the second half of the semester, but will be based on NASA’s Robotics Alliance Project. You and your team will need to document the progress of building your robot (including the original idea, the problems and the solutions, the final design, etc.) in a Robot Website (25 points), and your robot’s performance will be grade by its final action (5 points). 

      Robot website scoring rubric: 




      Project Goals

      A brief description of the project objective


      Team Members

      Team members and their roles. For example: programmer, robot designer, web page editor, etc. One person can have multiple roles


      Robot Name

      Robot name. A logo and a slogan will give you extra points!


      (Logo +1)

      (Slogan +1)

      Robot Design

      The robot physical design. Use photos, videos, or other media to help explain your ideas


      Program Design

      The computer program design. Take screenshots of your Open Roberta Lab program to help explain your ideas


      Blog of Progress

      A blog describing your weekly efforts: problems you ran into, changes you made, etc.



      A discussion of the project related to the things we talked about in the class. For example, do you think your robot is intelligent? Does it have a mind? Do you feel any differently about AI after you did this project?



      A working Open Roberta Lab program for line tracking. You need to post a picture of your program and videos of simulation.


      Overall Impression

      Teamwork, web design, presentation, etc.



      Total points:

      100 (+10)

      Final action scoring rubric

      • 5 points: Robot moves as planned 
      • 3 points: Robot moves but not as planned 
      • 1 point: Robot shows up but not moving
      • 0 point: Robot and program no completed
      Project instructions:

      EV3 tutorials:
      [Connect Simulator to Robot Tutorial
      [Get started with ev3dev]

      Maps for Open Roberta Lab simulator: 
      Line tracker: [Easy track] [Hard track]
      Sumobot: [Sumo arena]


      The schedules of weekly topics, discussions, and assignments are as follow:






      Apr 11






      Apr 18

      PART I. The Philosophy of Mind

      Chinese Room Argument- Can a Computer Have a Mind?


      Discussion #1:
      Artificial intelligence vs. human intelligence 



      Apr 25

      Debate Practice


      Will artificial intelligence surpass human intelligence? 

      Debate team up

      [Debate practice teams]


      May 2

      [No class] Midterm Debate Preparation

      [Written assignment- arguments and rebuttals]

      [Rebuttal form]  


      May 9

      Turing Test- How Intelligent Can a Computer Be?



      May 16

      Personal Identity- Who Am I?


      Discussion #2:
      What an AI needs to do to convince you that it’s as intelligent as a human? 



      May 23

      Midterm Debate

      Group Debates #1 & #2

      [Midterm debate teams


      [Midterm debate preparation form]


      May 30

      Group Debate #3



      [Midterm Debate Report] - due before Jun 12 midnight

      LEGO Teams team up


      Jun 6

      PART II. The Science of Mind

      LEGO Robot Programming Tutorial


      Computer room:
      1共25 (1 Kyou 25)


      EV3 simulator


      Jun 13

      Mind Reading & Mind Control



      Build basic EV3 robot


      Jun 27

      Self & Free Will


      Discussion #3:
      Transhumanism- design a mind augmentation device  

      Send the link for Robot Website


      Jul 4



      Room D107 (Faculty of medicine campus, Building D, Room 107)


      Robot body and program designs


      Jul 11

      Robot Field Test

      Room D107


      Robot field test


      Jul 18

      Final Project

      LEGO Robot Sumo Competition

      Room D107

      [LEGO teams]


      Present Robot Website to the class


      Jul 25





      Aug 1

      Feedback: LEGO Robot Sumo Competition (continued)

      Room D107 



      LEGO Robot Schedule:
      • Available time: 12~3pm (weekday); 12:30~3:30pm (Saturday).
      • Available date: see table below.
      • If you want to schedule a new time slot or reschedule an old time slot, either you talk to me in the class, or email me one day before and no later than 3pm. For example, if you want to change the 5:00-7:00pm time slot on 6/27 to 6:00-8:00pm on the same day, you need to notify me before 5pm on 6/26.
      • We will meet up in front of the E building, and work in the D building. Do not be late!
      • You need to bring your laptop (with Bluetooth connection) to directly control your robot with Open Roberta Lab.



      Team #1

      Team #2

      Team #3

      Team #4


      6/15 (Sat)






      6/19 (Wed)





      6/21 (Fri)






      6/25 (Tue)





      6/26 (Wed)





      6/28 (Fri)






      7/2 (Tue)





      7/3 (Wed)





      7/5 (Fri)





      7/6 (Sat)





      7/9 (Tue)




      7/10 (Wed)






      7/17 (Wed)





      7/18 (Thu)

      LEGO Robot Sumo Competition!


      8/1 (Thu)-Feedback

      LEGO Robot Sumo Competition!


      Robot Websites:

      Team Photos: