THI’s 2023-2024 Theme

We are in a moment of rapid technological advancements that promise to change the nature of human experience, and indeed our viability: a variety of experts have suggested that the risk of human extinction from artificial intelligence technology could be as great as pandemics or nuclear arms. While these developments are momentous, the types of decisions that we are facing are not entirely new – throughout history, humans have created technologies that, in turn, have shaped our lives in profound, species-altering ways. The Humanities Institute is dedicating the 2023-2024 academic year to examining the relationship between humanity and technology, and the transformations, threats, and opportunities that lie ahead.

Technology has impacted every aspect and era of human life, from the adoption of Oldowan tools in the Stone age, to the implementation of writing systems in Ancient Sumeria, to the development of computational technology and artificial intelligence in the past sixty years. The humanities have always been entangled with technology. As technological advancements such as the printing press, film, computers, and the internet revolutionized the creation and dissemination of knowledge and culture, humanities disciplines provided holistic, nuanced lenses for understanding the nature and impact of these technologies on human life and thought. Today, with the introduction of digital tools and platforms, the humanities offer critical historical and socially conscious insights to building technologies that can enhance our emotional, imaginative, and expressive capacities. 

As we face major threats to humanity, including extreme political polarization and the worsening climate crisis, a humanistic approach to technological innovations is more important than ever. The humanities provide a multitude of disciplinary perspectives through which to understand, evaluate, and imagine alternative futures for the moment we find ourselves in. Philosophy offers conceptual frameworks for assessing the ethics of developing technologies, including privacy concerns and data sharing, while History provides us with lessons from previous eras. Speculative fiction in Literature presents creative spaces to explore narratives of the future that prioritize justice and individual and communal well-being. Feminist Studies and Critical Race and Ethnic Studies provide crucial perspectives to aid in addressing algorithmic biases and discrimination in emerging surveillance technologies. And Linguistics helps us more precisely delimit the capabilities and diagnose the potential pitfalls of modern language technologies like ChatGPT. From privacy concerns to the impact of automation on jobs, we need the critical thinking, social perceptiveness, and complex problem solving that humanists bring to guide our decisions about new technologies. 

Login with us for this important year examining the humanities contributions to understanding and shaping technological change in our society so that we can build a better future.