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The Hannah Arendt Center at Bard College Hosts Conference on “Human Being in an Inhuman Age,” October 22 to 23



Mark Primoff
845-758-7412
primoff@bard.edu
09-07-2010
Image Credit: UFA/Photofest
 
ANNANDALE-ON-HUDSON, N.Y.—From Friday, October 22 to Saturday, October 23, The Hannah Arendt Center for Ethical and Political Thinking at Bard College will host a two-day conference on what it means to be human amidst superhuman technological advances. As computers, artificial intelligence, social networking, highly complex statistical modeling, and virtual reality are being integrated into all aspects of human life, “Human Being in an Inhuman Age” explores how we, as human beings, will transform ourselves in our technological future.

According to keynote speaker and inventor Ray Kurzweil, the “merger of man and machine will result in a world in which there is no distinction between the biological and the mechanical, or between physical and virtual reality.” A featured speaker, Ron Arkin, works with the defense department to build autonomous ethical robots that will act more ethically than humans in certain combat situations. And a second keynote speaker, Sherry Turkle, argues that the ubiquity of simulation threatens to replace reality with a virtual reality that is so compelling, beautiful, and coherent that it is nearly impossible to resist. A panel of artists including Nicholson Baker and Ann Lauterbach will ask: Is art human? Political thinkers will consider what happens when automation renders most of the world’s population economically superfluous. And more than 20 leading scholars will ask: What does it mean to be human in an inhuman age?

The Arendt Center’s conference will use Hannah Arendt’s ideas as its catalyst and framework, addressing such questions as: Will man be able to control and direct the advance of science? Do robots and technology in war, medicine, and art threaten humanity? What do the loss of the humanities and rise of online education portend? Is man a mechanism, an animal, or something more? What higher ends does technology free human beings to pursue? Is virtual reality dehumanizing?

“Hannah Arendt insisted we face the fact that human beings will increasingly actualize an ancient desire: to replace mankind’s given and fated human existence with a scientifically enhanced humanity that human beings make for themselves,” says Roger Berkowitz, academic director of the Arendt Center at Bard College. “What Arendt saw is that human freedom is threatened by an artificially constructed humanity. Arendt insisted that we understand and think of the humanist as well as the political and ethical implications of our scientific future, and that is the effort of our conference.”

For Arendt, only in thinking—the activity of freely and spontaneously being human—can man keep the idea of humanity alive in an age of inhumanity. In the project of thinking, “Human Being in an Inhuman Age” brings together artists, technologists, businessmen, academics, and public intellectuals to ask what it means to be human in a world in which robots will not only perform previously impossible surgeries and carry out military operations, but also will increasingly decide which surgeries to perform and which bombs to drop. How do we think humanly in a world in which humans are enhanced with chips in their brains and neural implants that transform our experiences of the real world? And is something essentially human at risk in a society that mediates friendships and life itself through algorithmically-guided computer applications?

Ray Kurzweil will give a keynote address followed by an interview by Bard College President Leon Botstein. Kurzweil is an American inventor (the Kurzweil Synthesizer and the Kurzweil Reader are two of his more famous inventions) and futurist. He has authored six best-selling books on health and artificial intelligence. His latest book is the bestseller The Singularity Is Near. His website is KurzweilAI.net. Other keynote speakers include Sherry Turkle, Abby Rockefeller Mauzé Professor of the Social Studies of Science and Technology in the Program in Science, Technology, and Society at MIT, whose many books include Life on Screen, The Second Self: Computers and the Human Spirit, and most recently, Simulation and Its Discontents; and Marianne Constable, Zaffaroni Family Chair in Undergraduate Education and Professor of Rhetoric at the University of California, Berkeley, whose latest book is Just Silences: The Limits and Possibilities of Modern Law.

This conference is sponsored by The Hannah Arendt Center for Ethical and Political Thinking, The Human Rights Project at Bard College, and The Science, Technology and Society Program. Registration and attendance at the conference is free. Lunches will be available for purchase on both Friday and Saturday. To register, please send an email to Roger Berkowitz at berkowit@bard.edu. For more information, please visit www.bard.edu/hannaharendtcenter/conference2010 or call 845-758-7413.

 
CONFERENCE SCHEDULE
“Human Being in an Inhuman Age”
Friday, October 22 to Saturday, October 23
Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson, New York

Friday, October 22
10:30 am—Welcoming Remarks: Roger Berkowitz, director of the Hannah Arendt Center for Ethical and Political Thinking. Sosnoff Theater, Fisher Center.

11:00 am—Keynote address: Ray Kurzweil, inventor, futurist, and bestselling author; discussant Leon Botstein, president of Bard College. Sosnoff Theater, Fisher Center.

1:00 pm—Lunch in Manor House

2:00 pm—Human and nature music augmented by machines: David Rothenberg, musician, composer, author, and philosopher-naturalist. Olin Atrium.

2:30 pm—Panel One: Is it Important to Maintain a Distinction between Humans and Machines?
Thomas Dumm, professor of political science at Amherst College; Jane Bennett, chair of the political science department at Johns Hopkins University; discussant Davide Panagia, political and cultural theorist and Canada Research Chair in Cultural Studies at Trent University. Olin Auditorium.

4:00 pm—Break

4:15 pm—Panel Two: Are Automation and Rational Systems Making Humans Superfluous?
Seyla Benhabib, Eugene Meyer Professor of Political Science, Yale University; Drucilla Cornell, professor of political science at Rutgers University and director of the Ubuntu Project; Jerome Kohn, trustee of the Hannah Arendt Bluecher Literary Trust and director of the Hannah Arendt Center at The New School University; discussant Kathleen Jones, professor emerita of women’s studies at San Diego State University and director of the 2010 NEH Summer Seminar on Hannah Arendt. Olin Auditorium.

5:45 pm—Break

6:00 pm—Keynote address: Sherry Turkle, Abby Rockefeller Mauzé Professor of the Social Studies of Science and Technology in the Program in Science, Technology, and Society at MIT; discussant Thomas Bartscherer, assistant professor of humanities at Bard College and director of the Program in Language and Thinking. Olin Auditorium.

7:30 pm—Dinner. Nonparticipants should avail themselves of the Hudson Valley’s fantastic culinary culture. Reservations recommended.      

Saturday, October 23

10:30 am—Themed Session: Can Robots Behave More Humanely in the Battlefield than Humans?
Ron Arkin, Regents’ professor, associate dean for research in the College of Computing, and director of the Mobile Robot Laboratory at the Georgia Institute of Technology; discussant Tom Keenan, director of the Human Rights Project and associate professor of comparative literature at Bard College. Olin Auditorium.

11:30 am—Panel Three: Will Machines Realize Their Potential as the Masters of Man?
Jean-Gabriel Ganascia, professor of computer science at Paris VI University; Susan Silbey, Leon and Anne Goldberg Professor of Humanities at MIT; James Hughes, executive director of the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies and lecturer at Trinity College; discussant Greg Moynahan, codirector of the Science, Technology, and Society Program and professor of history at Bard College. Olin Auditorium.

1:00 pm—Lunch in Olin Auditorium

1:30 pm—Lunchtime Conversation: WITH: Being in the Networked Age
Heather Gold, comedian, performer, and speaker; Benjamin Stevens, professor of classics at Bard College; discussant TBA

2:30 pm—Panel Four: Is Art Human? The Fate of Art in the Age of Machines
Nicholson Baker, critically acclaimed and best-selling author; David Rothenberg, musician, composer, author, and philosopher-naturalist; Wyatt Mason, critic, essayist, and journalist; discussant Ann Lauterbach, David and Ruth Schwab II Professor of Language and Literature at Bard College. Olin Auditorium.

4:00 pm—Break

4:15 pm—Keynote address: Marianne Constable, Zaffaroni Family Chair in Undergraduate Education and professor of rhetoric at the University of California, Berkeley; discussant Noah Chasin, professor of art history at Bard College. Olin Auditorium.

5:15 pm—Panel Five: How Should We Imagine Human Beings in an Inhuman Age?
William Connolly, political theorist and Krieger-Eisenhower Professor of Political Science at Johns Hopkins University; Rob Riemen, author; discussant Gilles Peress, visiting professor of photography at Bard College. Olin Auditorium.

6:30 pm—Dinner

8:00 pm—American Symphony Orchestra
The orchestra’s first concert of the 2010–11 season features Beethoven’s majestic Sixth Symphony (“Pastorale”) and Rachmaninoff's rarely performed First Piano Concerto; Leon Botstein, conductor. Sosnoff Theater, Fisher Center.
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Website: http://www.bard.edu/hannaharendtcenter/conference2010

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This event was last updated on 09-07-2010