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Robots and Artificial Intelligence



Artificial Intelligence (AI) and robotics are increasingly transforming our society. While it is true that AI has been through several historical rounds of major hyping and subsequent disappointment (so called “AI Winters”), it can hardly be overstated how modern technologies have transformed industries (such as manufacturing, logistics, stock trading and the arts, to name a few), power structures (through data collection and automatization) and people (through social media, recommender systems and dating apps). Moreover, a new wave of AI systems seems to be on the verge of manifesting even more drastic changes. The launch of ChatGPT in late 2022 set in motion an arms-race between big tech companies that have ever bigger amounts of money to spend. They sell their inventions as the most powerful technology humans have ever invented, but more and more academics are acknowledging its realistic and potentially impactful dangers, and are therefore calling for action.

This course provides an introductory overview in the fields of AI and robotics for Social Science students. In this course, societal transformations concerning AI and robotics will be examined through a socio-cultural lens. Students will learn the basics about central topics in AI and robotics, such as neural networks and language models, and how to look critically at what these technologies can and cannot do. In addition, they will relate their own studies in the social sciences to recent debates on AI and learn how they can contribute to these debates. Relevant topics that are directly influenced by AI and robotics include: (in)equality, consciousness, privacy, love, safety, ethics, autonomy, (mental) well-being and healthcare, education, … . In addition, students will learn about several socially and biologically oriented paradigms towards AI and robotics.

Course objectives

Through completion of this course, students will:

  • learn about what Artificial Intelligence is and in what major ways it is influencing society.

  • gain insight into recent debates and problems in AI and robotics through a socio-cultural lens.

  • learn to think critically about those debates and what impact their outcome might have on people and society.

  • learn to relate their own studies to topics in AI and robotics.

Mode of instruction

This course is worth 4 ECTS, which is equal to a total workload of 112 hours:

  • Attending 6 seminars of 2 hours each (12 hours)

  • Preparing for seminars by reading course material (30 hours)

  • Working on 2 smaller assignments (30 hours)

  • Working on a final assignment (40 hours)

Attendance and active participation in all of these components is mandatory to pass the course.

Assessment methods

The assessment will look as follows:

  • 2 individual experimental assignments.

  • 1 individual final assignment (blogpost).

The assignments will be further explained during the seminar sessions.




Teaching will be in English. It is possible to do the final assignment in Dutch.


This course will improve the following skills:

  • Academic reading

  • (Academic) writing

  • Critical thinking

  • Connecting disciplines (interdisciplinarity)

  • Digital skills


Date Time Location Tentative program
14-9-2023 18:00-20:00 Leiden, Pieter de la Courtbuilding Introduction to AI
28-9-2023 18:00-20:00 Leiden, Pieter de la Courtbuilding Intelligence and Consciousness
19-10-2023 18:00-20:00 Leiden, Pieter de la Courtbuilding Social AI
02-11-2023 18:00-20:00 Leiden, Pieter de la Courtbuilding Social Robotics
23-11-2023 18:00-20:00 Leiden, Pieter de la Courtbuilding TBD
07-12-2023 18:00-20:00 Leiden, Pieter de la Courtbuilding Closing Session

Admission requirements

This is an Honours Elective module meant for second and if places available third year students of the Honours College FSW programme, Science, Society and Self track. You have to participate in at least one Honours Elective module in your second year.


You can register for the Honours Modules via MyStudyMap until five days before the start of the course.

Contact information

If you have any questions, please contact the course coordinator Pieter Pierrot (
or Janita Ravesloot (