CS 338 - Artificial Intelligence - Fall 2012


Johnny 5
Sentient robots are cool, but it turns out there's a lot more to AI than that. And the Roomba is about as close as we've gotten so far, anyway.

Russell and Norvig (see the textbook details below) punt on trying to define artificial intelligence, instead listing definitions from eight other textbooks. That is probably wise, because there really isn't a single, clear, accepted definition. The listed definitions are arrayed across two dimensions: first, each definition pertains to either a system's behavior or its internal thoughts, and then the other dimension describes that first part as "like a human" or "rational." See Wikipedia for another take on the issue.

This course will approach the field of artificial intelligence from a decidedly pragmatic direction: How can we make computers do smart things? We can reframe it to avoid alluding to intelligence at all: We will study algorithms that solve difficult problems in efficient ways. Thus, the course will tackle a wide range of problems, and the primary thread running throughout them will be "this problem seems rather difficult for a computer." Note that this changes over time, however. While once considered very difficult for computers, we have computers that can play a mean game of chess now, for example, and checkers has been solved fully.

For an idea of the specific topics covered in the course, see the rough schedule for the semester.


When/Where: TR 10:50AM-12:05PM / CNS E201

Instructor: Mark Liffiton
Office: CNS C207B   (2nd floor CNS, directly above entrance from quad)
Office Hours: Mon/Fri 11-12; Mon/Wed 3-4; Tue/Thu 10-10:45; or email/drop in any time.
Contact: Email is preferred (please start the subject with "CS127:").
     For more pressing matters, my office # is 309-556-3535.

Textbook: Artificial Intelligence: A Modern Approach (third edition) by Stuart Russell and Peter Norvig
ISBN: 978-0136042594
Options: Note the availability of ebooks from Amazon (Kindle), Barnes & Noble (Nook), and Coursesmart, as well as several rental possibilities from Amazon, B&N, and others.

Other Pages

Semester schedule — tentative - see the Moodle for up-to-date details.

Moodle — assignments, quizzes, announcements, and other online resources will be posted here.


The final grade will be based roughly on the following breakdown:

Exam 120%
Exam 220%
Final Exam25%


* You can create PDFs from any document in OS X (instructions) or in Windows (using a free tool like DoPDF).
LibreOffice, Google Docs, and many other word-processing applications can produce PDFs directly, as well.

Assignments will be posted on the course's Moodle site, usually about a week before they are due, and they will be collected there as well. Submissions should be in the form of plain text or PDF*. I will aim to get them graded and returned to you by the following week.

Your lowest assignment score will be dropped.


There will be two exams during the semester, held in class, and the second will primarily focus on the material seen since the first exam. The final will be cumulative, and it is currently scheduled for Friday, December 14, from 10:15am-12:15pm.


As you may have heard from other teachers: If everyone does well, that's great! I'm not going to lower anyone's grade to fit some predetermined grade distribution. However, scores given on individual quizzes and exams (especially exams) may not translate directly into a letter grade on the traditional scale. As explained quite well here:

"A percentage shows how much of a particular exam was dealt with successfully, but what test is so perfect that it could completely determine extent of knowledge or ability? If a student gets a grade of 90%, it does not mean they know 90% of everything in the subject. Wise students will begin to look at scores as a place on a continuum of achievement rather than analysis carved in stone."

Late Policy

Assignments will be due at set times; they will be considered late at any point after that time. An assignment will lose 10% of the total possible points for every day it is late, and after five days it will not be accepted.

Assignments can't be accepted at all after solutions have been handed out or the graded work has been returned to the class.


If you would like to request a regrade, submit a request in writing (via email) within one week of receiving the graded assignment, exam, etc. Indicate exactly which part you believe deserves a different score and why.

Engagement / Attendance

Class time will be complementary to the reading, and you will need both in order to learn all of the material in this class. Furthermore, each student benefits from the engagement of all others in the class. Ten points of your final grade will be based on that engagement. Attending every class period on time and prepared will earn a base of 7 points; points can be gained by constructive participation, in class or out, such as asking questions, answering them, responding in the forum, sharing insights or useful/interesting resources with the class (posting in the forum, for example), investigating concepts beyond the requirement in class, working on small independent learning projects, and in many other ways; points can be lost for excessive (more than 3) unexcused absences, disrupting class (e.g., regularly showing up late), dominating the conversation, and the like.

Absences can be excused with documentation from health services or the Dean of Students' office, or if arrangements are made with me more than a week in advance. In general, if you know you will be missing a class, let me know as soon as you do.

Working with Others

I strongly encourage you to form study groups with your classmates, compare notes, explain concepts to one another, and generally help each other learn the material in this course.

Any material turned in for a grade must be your own individual work, though. You may work on concepts with other students, but I ask that you not discuss assigned problems until after the work has been turned in. This has two goals: 1) let the grades be a reflection of each student's own work, and 2) avoid situations where one person solves a problem and another records the answer as their own work without really learning. I understand that the line between discussing concepts and solving problems can be vague, so I ask that you use your own judgement with those two goals in mind and ask me if a situation is unclear.

Try to follow this rule of thumb: No matter what help you received figuring out the concepts involved, when you turn something in you should be able to reproduce the whole thing, working through the assignment again, without any outside help.

For details on the university's policies regarding academic honesty, please read the sections of the student handbook on conduct, cheating, and plagiarism here.