Computing and AI
Humanistic Perspectives from MIT
 


Image by Christine Daniloff, Design Director, MIT News Office

"The advent of artificial intelligence presents our species with an historic opportunity — disguised as an existential challenge: Can we stay human in the age of AI? In fact, can we grow in humanity, can we shape a more humane, more just, and sustainable world?"



FOREWORD

Melissa Nobles, Kenan Sahin Dean
Professor of Political Science

School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences

"With a sense of promise and urgency, we are embarked at MIT on an accelerated effort to more fully integrate the technical and humanistic forms of discovery in our curriculum and research, and in our habits of mind and action. Together, the commentaries in this series offer something of a guidebook to myriad productive ways that the technical, humanistic, and scientific fields can join forces at MIT, and elsewhere, to further human and planetary well-being. The commentaries are fascinating to read, simply as a tour of knowledge domains, but our hope, of course, is that they will prove immensely practical as well."
 


THE HUMANITIES

 


COMPARATIVE MEDIA STUDIES

William Uricchio

"Given our research and practice focus, the CMS perspective can be a one key for understanding the implications of computation for knowledge and representation, as well as computation’s relationship to the critical process of how knowledge works in culture — the way it is formed, shared, and validated."

Actions
"Bring media and computer scholars together to explore issues that require both areas of expertise: text-generating algorithms (that force us to ask what it means to be human); the nature of computational gatekeepers (that compels us to reflect on implicit cultural priorities); and personalized filters and texts (that require us to consider the shape of our own biases)."

 


GLOBAL LANGUAGES
Emma Teng, with colleagues

"Language and culture learning is a gateway to international experiences and important ways to develop cross-cultural understanding and sensitivity. Such understanding is essential to addressing the social and ethical implications of the expanding array of technology affecting everyday life across the globe."

Actions
"We aim to create a 21st-century language center to provide a convening space for cross-cultural communication, collaboration, action research, and global classrooms. We also plan to keep the intimate size and human experience of MIT's language classes, which only increase in value as technology saturates the world."


 


HISTORY

Jeffrey Ravel


"Emerging innovations in computational methods will continue to improve our access to the past and the tools through which we interpret evidence. But the field of history will continue to be served by older methods of scholarship as well; critical thinking by human beings is fundamental to our endeavors in the humanities."

Action
Call on "the nuanced debates in which historians engage about causality to provide a useful frame of reference for considering the issues that will inevitably emerge from new computing technologies. This methodology of the history field, and an appreciation of the past, are opportunities to imagine our way out of today’s existential threats."


 


LINGUISTICS

Faculty of MIT Linguistics

"Perhaps the most obvious opportunities for computational and linguistics research concern the interrelation between specific hypotheses about the formal properties of language and their computational implementation in the form of systems that learn, parse, and produce human language."

Action
"Critically, transformative new tools have come from researchers at institutions where linguists work side-by-side with computational researchers who are able to translate back and forth between computational properties of linguistic grammars and of other systems.”


 


LITERATURE

Shankar Raman, with Mary C. Fuller

"In the age of AI, we could invent new tools for reading. Making the expert reading skills we teach MIT students even partially available to readers outside the academy would widen access to our materials in profound ways."

Action
"At least three priorities of current literary engagement with the digital should be integrated into the SCC’s research and curriculum: democratization of knowledge; new modes of and possibilities for knowledge production; and critical analysis of the social conditions governing what can be known and who can know it."

  

 


PHILOSOPHY

Alex Byrne and Tamar Schapiro

"Computing and AI pose many ethical problems, related to privacy (e.g., data systems design), discrimination (e.g., bias in machine learning), policing (e.g., surveillance), democracy (e.g., the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica data scandal), remote warfare, intellectual property, political regulation, and corporate responsibility."

Action
“The new college presents an opportunity for MIT to be an intellectual leader in the ethics of technology. The Ethics Lab we propose could turn this opportunity into reality."


 


SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY, AND SOCIETY

Eden Medina and Dwaipayan Banerjee

"A more global view of computing would demonstrate a broader range of possibilities than one centered on the American experience, while also illuminating how computer systems can reflect and respond to different needs and systems. Such experiences can prove generative for thinking about the future of computing writ large."

Action

"Adopt a global approach to the research and teaching in the SCC, an approach that views the U.S. experience as one among many."


 


WRITING

Tom Levenson

"Computation and its applications in fields that directly affect society cannot be an unexamined good. Professional science and technology writers are a crucial resource for the mission of new college of computing, and they need to be embedded within its research apparatus."

Action
"Intertwine writing and the ideas in coursework to provide conceptual depth that purely technical mastery cannot offer."


 


WOMEN'S AND GENDER STUDIES

Ruth Perry, with Sally Haslanger and Elizabeth Wood

"The Schwarzman College of Computing presents MIT with a unique opportunity, indeed a responsibility, to take a leadership role in addressing some of most pressing challenges that have emerged from the role computing technologies play in our society — including how these technologies are reinforcing social inequalities."

Action
"Ensure that women’s voices are prominent and that coursework and research in the SCC is designed with a keen awareness of the difference that gender makes. This is the single-most powerful way that MIT can address the inequities in the computing fields."


THE ARTS

 


MUSIC

Eran Egozy

"Creating tomorrow’s music systems responsibly will require a truly multidisciplinary education, one that covers everything from scientific models and engineering challenges to artistic practice and societal implications. The new music technology will be accompanied by difficult questions."


Actions

"Through the MIT Schwarzman College of Computing, our responsibility will be not only to develop the new technologies of music creation, distribution, and interaction, but also to study their cultural implications and define the parameters of a harmonious outcome for all."


 


THEATER ARTS

Sara Brown

"As a subject, AI problematizes what it means to be human. There are an unending series of questions posed by the presence of an intelligent machine. The theater, as a synthetic art form that values and exploits liveness, is an ideal place to explore the complex and layered problems posed by AI and advanced computing."

Actions
"There are myriad opportunities for advanced computing to be integrated into theater, both as a tool and as a subject of exploration. As a tool, advanced computing can be used to develop performance systems that respond directly to a live performer in real time, or to integrate virtual reality as a previsualization tool for designers."


THE SOCIAL SCIENCES


 


ANTHROPOLOGY

Heather Paxson

"The methods used in anthropology — a field that systematically studies human cultural beliefs and practices — are uniquely suited to studying the effects of automation and digital technologies in social life. For anthropologists, 'Can artificial intelligence be ethical?' is an empirical, not a hypothetical, question. Ethical for what? To whom? Under what circumstances?"

Actions

"Incorporate anthropological thinking into the new college to prepare students to live and work effectively and responsibly in a world of technological, demographic, and cultural exchanges. We envision an Ethnography Lab that will provide digital and computing tools tailored to anthropological research and projects."

 

 

 


ECONOMICS

Nancy L. Rose and David Autor

"The intellectual affinity between economics and computer science traces back almost a century, to the founding of game theory in 1928. Today, the practical synergies between economics and computer science are flourishing. We outline some of the many opportunities for the two disciplines to engage more deeply through the new MIT Schwarzman College of Computing."

Actions
“Research on fairness, expertise, and cognitive biases in machine-supported and machine-delegated decision-making; and on market design, industrial organization, and the future of work. Scholarship at the intersection of data science, econometrics, and causal inference. Cultivate depth in network science, algorithmic game theory and mechanism design, and online learning. Develop tools for rapid, cost-effective, and ongoing education and retraining for workers.”



POLITICAL SCIENCE

Faculty of the Department

"The advance of computation gives rise to a number of conceptual and normative questions that are political in character. Political science and theory have a significant role in addressing such questions as: How do major players in the technology sector seek to legitimate their authority to make decisions that affect us all? And where should that authority actually reside in a democratic polity?"

Action

"Contribute the perspectives of political science to ensure that computational research is socially aware, especially with issues involving governing institutions, the relations between nations, and human rights."


Related MIT Publications and Resources

 


Susan Silbey
Goldberg Professor of Humanities, Professor of Sociology and Anthropology, and Professor of Behavioral and Policy Sciences

 

Welcoming Remarks
Celebration for the MIT Schwarzman College of Computing
28 February 2019

 

Commentaries
On teaching ethics; On designing a new college



Ethics, Computing, and AI: Perspectives from MIT
 

To support ongoing planning for the Stephen A. Schwarzman College of Computing, Dean Melissa Nobles invited 20 faculty from all five MIT schools to offer perspectives on the societal and ethical dimensions of emerging technologies.

This series presents the resulting commentaries — practical, inspiring, concerned, and clear-eyed views from an optimistic community deeply engaged with one of the most consequential questions of our time.







 

 

 


Resources on MIT News

Announcements, news stories, and updates about the MIT Stephen A. Schwarzman College of Computing and related endeavors

3 Questions: David Mindell on a "bilingual" education

Engineer/historian discusses how the MIT Schwarzman College of Computing might integrate technical and humanistic research and education.

Letter: Update on the MIT Schwarzman College of Computing

Preliminary reports examine options for MIT Schwarzman College of Computing
SCC working groups identify key ideas for new college

3 Questions: The social implications and responsibilities of computing
Report from the SCC working group focused on ethical and societal questions
 


MIT Computational Cultures Initiative

Anchored in MIT’s commitment to the greater public good, the new Computational Cultures Initiative is designed to incubate exchanges between technologists and humanistic researchers (historians, philosophers, anthropologists, political scientists, and others) who study the societal implications and impacts of technological change.

Concentration in Computing and Society
 

Drawing together classes from nine of MIT's humanistic fields, this concentration introduces students to critical thinking about computation and its technologies. Students will gain an understanding of how changes in computational power have refashioned fundamental questions about community, identity, democracy, and knowledge; gain greater fluency to analyze the tools they work with; gain new ideas about applications; and learn to pose new kinds of questions about innovation. 

 


 


 

Series prepared by MIT SHASS Communications
Office of Dean Melissa Nobles
MIT School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences
Series Editor and Designer: Emily Hiestand, Director of Communications
Series Co-Editor: Kathryn O'Neill, Associate News Manager
Publication Support: Alison Lanier, Senior Communications Associate
Published 23 September 2019