Texas Tech University

Philosophy Major Plans to Tackle Ethics Involved in Artificial Intelligence

Glenys Young

May 8, 2020

Michelle Corcoran won one of the Texas Tech Parents Association’s Student Academic Leadership Awards.

In February, Texas Tech University and the Texas Tech Parents Association announced the 2020 Student Academic Leadership Award recipients to honor outstanding students who excel both in and out of the classroom. We are highlighting Texas Tech University students who were recognized.

Champions often have a philosophy they live by. But how often does philosophy have a champion? At Texas Tech University, one student could easily vie for that title.

Senior Michelle Corcoran didn't start out to be a philosophy major. She didn't even choose that path once she realized she loved it. After discovering a passion for the subject through an introductory course her freshman year, she held out for more than a year – and through three other intended majors – before deciding to take the leap. After all, what could she really do with a major in philosophy?


As it turns out, plenty.

She became president of the Undergraduate Philosophy Club, investing her time and effort to mentor fellow students with the same passion. She worked closely with the leadership of Phi Sigma Tau, an international honor society for philosophers, to reactivate the Texas Tech chapter. And now, as she looks to the future, she's planning to attend law school and use her philosophy education to address the legal and ethical ramifications of artificial intelligence (AI).

For her efforts, Corcoran recently received one of the Texas Tech Parents Association's Student Academic Leadership Awards.

How are you a leader in the classroom?
As a philosophy major, most of my lectures were discussion-based. In the classroom, I demonstrated leadership by asking questions to aid discussions and initiate new conversation topics among my peers. I also helped organize group study sessions and welcomed all of my classmates to join.

How are you a leader outside the classroom?
As the Undergraduate Philosophy Club president, I organized meetings and worked with my peers to generate ideas for discussion topics that might be of interest to non-members. To increase student involvement, I put up flyers around the English/Philosophy building and visited some of the introductory classrooms to talk about our club activities and encourage them to join. I also worked to reactivate the Phi Sigma Tau chapter at Texas Tech to incentivize students to become more involved in philosophy. To ensure that the Undergraduate Philosophy Club would remain active, I acted as a mentor to a few of the incoming juniors and seniors so they would feel comfortable holding meetings and activities.

Why did you select your major?
I became interested in philosophy after I took an intro-level course during my freshman year. Mark Webb was my professor of World Religions and Philosophy, where he encouraged classroom discussion and made me feel comfortable enough to begin sharing some of my ideas and questions. The department's welcoming environment provided me with the initial impetus to become involved outside of the classroom. I realized my passion for philosophy soon after and changed my major right before my junior year at Texas Tech.

How do you intend to use your education in the future?
The ethics of integrating technology in society has always interested me. In the future, I plan to go to law school and continue my pursuit of research in philosophy concerning AI and mind-to-computer uploading. Advancements in technology will continue to yield legal implications. I hope to someday aid the legal field in implementing a framework for ethical AI usage.

How has Texas Tech helped you along the path to those goals?
The entire Department of Philosophy staff is incredibly congenial and supportive of each student. They were always willing to listen to my ideas and offer their approval or assistance. A few of my professors encouraged me to reactivate and lead the Undergraduate Philosophy Club, which allowed me to develop as a leader and an individual. I recognized the potential the department saw in me and owe much of my success to them.

Who has had the biggest impact on you, and why?
Jeremy Schwartz had a profound impact on me during my time as an undergraduate. I never felt intimidated or nervous to ask him questions about relevant lecture material or even random philosophic questions regarding some of my other courses. Dr. Schwartz was a motivator, and he encouraged my peers and me to immerse ourselves in academics.