2023 Dr. Bruce J. Nelson ’74 Distinguished Speaker Series

Being Human in the Age of AI

Join us for an inspiring and thought-provoking lecture series that brings together three visionary thinkers, Jaron Lanier, Ruha Benjamin, and Stephanie Dinkins, as they explore the complex interplay between humanity, artificial intelligence, and the future. This enlightening series will delve into the ethical, social, aesthetic and technological dimensions that shape our lives in the emerging AI age. 

Admission to this public lecture series is complimentary.

A reception for each event begins at 5:15 p.m. with the lectures commencing at 6 p.m.

Jaron Lanier, September 19

John Lanier

“There is No AI”

While he is at the very center of AI developments, Jaron Lanier also has a radically different take on AI. He doesn’t think AI is a thing in itself, but is instead a new kind of social collaboration. AI as we know it today combines the expressions of real humans in new and useful ways. A chatbot borrows from things real people have said before and recombines them, for instance. This perspective opens up more useful ways to think than the usual science fiction framing, which treats the programs as mysterious, potentially scary creatures. Instead of using hard-to-define terms like “safety” or “fairness” to improve AI, we can ask whose input was important to a given output. That concreteness suggests ways to spread both lines of responsibility and opportunity. Instead of asking who will be put out of work by AI, we can ask who should be incentivized and rewarded for offering better data to go into AI programs. Lanier is also one of the few scientists working in the field who is good at explaining how the programs work to non-technical audiences.

About the Speaker

Jaron Lanier is a computer scientist, composer, artist and author who writes on numerous topics, including high-technology business, the social impact of technology, the philosophy of consciousness and information, Internet politics and the future of humanism. He is author of the award-winning, international best selling books You Are Not a Gadget, A Manifesto; Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now and Who Owns the Future?, the latter a foundational critique of internet economics and one of the only frameworks for reform. Lanier is a pioneer in virtual reality (a term he coined). He founded VPL Research, the first company to sell VR products, and led teams originating VR applications for medicine, design, and numerous other fields. He is the “octopus” (Office of the Chief Technology Officer Prime Unifying Scientist) at Microsoft. He was a founder or principal of startups that were acquired by Google, Adobe, Oracle, and Pfizer. He has been named to the influential persons lists of Wired Magazine and Time Magazine and received a Lifetime Career Award from the IEEE, the preeminent international engineering society. Lanier is also a musician and artist. He has been active in the world of new “classical” music since the late ’70s and writes chamber and orchestral works. His paintings and drawings have been exhibited in museums and galleries in the United States and Europe.

Ruha Benjamin, October 19

Ruha Benjamin

“From Artificial Intelligence to Collective Wisdom”

From automated decision systems in healthcare, policing, education and more, technologies have the potential to deepen discrimination while appearing neutral and even benevolent when compared to harmful practices of a previous era. Ruha Benjamin takes us into the world of biased bots, altruistic algorithms and their many entanglements and provides conceptual tools to decode tech predictions with historical and sociological insight. When it comes to AI, Benjamin shifts our focus from the dystopian and utopian narratives we are sold, to a sober reckoning with the way these tools are already a part of our lives. Whereas dystopias are the stuff of nightmares and utopias the stuff of dreams… ustopias are what we create together when we are wide awake.

About the Speaker

Ruha Benjamin is the Alexander Stewart 1886 Professor of African American Studies at Princeton University, founding director of the Ida B. Wells Just Data Lab, and author of the award-winning book Race After Technology: Abolitionist Tools for the New Jim Code, among many other publications. Her work investigates the social dimensions of science, medicine, and technology with a focus on the relationship between innovation and inequity, health and justice, knowledge and power. She is the recipient of numerous awards and honors, including the Marguerite Casey Foundation Freedom Scholar Award and the President’s Award for Distinguished Teaching at Princeton. Her most recent book, Viral Justice: How We Grow the World We Want, winner of the 2023 Stowe Prize, was born out of the twin plagues of COVID-19 and police violence and offers a practical and principled approach to transforming our communities and helping us build a more just and joyful world.

Stephanie Dinkins, November 6

Stephanie Dinkins

“On Love & Data”

“On Love & Data” develops a dialogue with hierarchies embedded within machine learning and AI architecture and one’s individual agency in transforming the algorithms within it. Many algorithmic technologies are rooted in methods that limit and cajole information from humans and computational assumptions. We assess ourselves using false dichotomies that force inadequate choices building a world bereft of complexity and nuance. The disinclinations of our systems to cope with the unseen, the unknown, difference and change limit possibilities for everyone. Through intelligent technologies—the ones that look like us, the ones that serve us and the ones that do neither—we have the ability to understand and organize human activity with complexity and broadly principled care. So, why aren’t these the goals of our algorithmic doppelgangers, assistants and technological ecosystems more generally?

Often envisioned outside the realm of what is technologically possible within artificial intelligence, care is an essential aspect of human information and resource-sharing networks that aid our survival. Recognition of this idea raises questions such as how can we infuse—cooperatively, adversarially or fugitively—ecosystems we depend on as well as the people and institutions currently holding power with ways of being, values, ethics and knowledges they are blind to or don’t understand?

About the Speaker

Stephanie Dinkins is a transmedia artist who creates projects that foster dialog about race, gender, aging and our future histories. Her art practice centers emerging technologies, documentary practices, and social collaboration toward more equitable social and technological ecosystems. Dinkins holds the Kusama Endowed Professorship in Art at Stony Brook University, where she founded the Future Histories Studio.

Dinkins exhibits internationally. She is the inaugural recipient of the LG-Guggenhiem Award for artists working at the intersection of art and technology. She is a United States Artist Fellow, Knight Arts & Tech Fellow and Creative Capital Grantee. Her art practice has been generously supported by the Berggruen Institute, Onassis Foundation, Stanford Institute for Human-Centered Artificial Intelligence, Soros Equality Fellowship, Eyebeam, Pioneer Works Tech Lab, NEW INC, Nokia Bell Labs, Blue Mountain Center; The Laundromat Project; Santa Fe Art Institute and Art/Omi. ‘

Wired, Art In America, Artsy, Art21, Hyperallergic, the BBC, The Nod Podcast, Rightclicksave.com and a host of popular podcasts and online publications have highlighted Dinkins’ art and ideas. Recent exhibitions include: In Search of the Present, Espoo Museum of Modern Art, Espoo Finland, Stephanie Dinkins: On Love & Data, Queens Museum of Art, (2021-2022), FUTURES, Smithsonian Arts & Industry Building, Washington D.C. (2021-22); BioMedia. The Era of life-like Media, ZKM| Center for Art and Media, Karlsruhe, DE, (2022) and The Imitation Game, Vancouver Art Gallery, Vancouver, Canada.