This year I presented unfinished work on purpose at a recent conference. I have seen people do this. It always seemed so brave and intimidating that I continually shied away…until this year. I have to be honest, rather than terrifying, it was extremely liberating. I began my presentation with the caveat that I was looking for advice and ideas. Unfortunately, our session ran long which cut short the Q and A portion. Yet, in the time that we had, I did receive some really helpful feedback.
To be sure, this approach works only for certain conferences. But I like the idea of taking an unfinished product and placing it in public view. It is good to have an exterior sounding board. In this case, I received some helpful criticisms (which is something that I love), and some skepticism (which means I’ve been unclear). Critique is always instructive. Even just physically writing the presentation allowed me to identify a few areas that needed more thorough articulation and research.
My presentation focused on the upcoming HMU discussion series which has taken some time to stitch together. I discovered this idea a couple of years ago when I decided that I wanted to better understand the meaning and nature of artificial intelligence (AI). Obviously, I wanted to create a series of conversations, but first, I had to research. Being completely unfamiliar with artificial intelligence, I put together a reading list and slowly plodded through it. Some of the literature appeared straightforward, but some involved densely complicated information and technical jargon. I had to step back and ask basic questions. Yet, even basic questions involve great complexity and I was reminded of questions that the Greeks had also asked. Which is how I ended up proposing a discussion series titled: What Can the Greeks Teach Us About AI?
Though familiar with some of the ancient Greek texts, this discussion series also prompted a steep learning curve in that direction. Reading about the Greek world simultaneous to learning about AI actually works really well together. Many of the Greek tragedies discuss the unknowable, the mysterious, the friction between the human and/or Greek world as it came to face new communities and cultures. Greek tragedies begin with the question: what does it mean to be human, and to be Greek?
In Grief Lessons, Anne Carson writes, “human virtue derives from human limitations.” In other words, human virtue stems from the places where humans must make choices, often between two bad scenarios. Death is the human’s ultimate limitation. Gods, on the other hand, exist outside of this dilemma. They are immune to lack, deprivation and disease. While they battle each other and squabble with siblings, their immortality grants them a freedom that humans can never enjoy or understand. Carson’s point, then, is that humans contemplate mortality to a much greater degree than gods do because they must. Virtue, which stems from courage and decision-making according to Carson, is dependent upon mortality. If virtue is dependent upon mortality, what happens when we integrate artificial intelligence? The crux of my goal is to better understand what it means to be human, and how AI might alter humanity, or at least our perception of ourselves.
At the conference, one attendee raised questions over the inclusion of Anne Carson’s quote. And because we ran out of time, I do not fully understand the questions he raised, which is unfortunate. Later, I discovered the Critical Response Process by Liz Lerman. I realize now, after the fact, that work-in-progress presentations require more audience preparation. Rather than asking an unprepared audience for feedback, I should have asked pointed questions, or opened with some type of structure for the question and answer session. Although the presentation was an excellent experiment, and even though I received some helpful feedback, I know that I can create a better environment for the next work-in-progress presentation.
Having said that, their feedback and my own research has led me to the finalized list of readings for the Spring Discussion Series. Consider this an invitation to What Can the Greeks Teach Us About AI?
Harrison Middleton University is pleased to offer a series of discussions focused on Greek tragedy. Greek tragedies present early written records of contemplation about the nature of humanity and its limitations. Plays by Aeschylus and Euripides will be used as a catalyst to answer questions such as: What is identity? What is intelligence? What is information? What is consciousness?
We will not stop with the tragedies themselves, however, but attempt to link ancient Greek concepts to questions posed by the development of artificial intelligence. For this reason, in addition to the plays, quotes and excerpts from texts about artificial intelligence will be provided throughout the series.
We will use Zoom to facilitate our discussions for this series. This series is free and open to all, but limited to 15 participants. To register, please contact Rebecca Fisher at rf*****@hm*.edu. Once registered, additional information will be provided.
Discussions will be held on Wednesday evenings:
April 26th, May 10th, May 24th, and June 7th.
5:00 pm PDT/6:00 pm MDT/7:00 pm CDT/8:00 pm EDT