In Praise of Pleasure

Geoffrey Harpham, Director, National Humanities Center

When I stumbled upon the future, I was actually looking for the past.

In the 1990s, I was trying to write a book about why the concept of language had so dominated the intellectual history of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. At some point, it occurred to me

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The Future of Moral Machines

The prospect of machines capable of following moral principles, let alone understanding them, seems as remote today as the word “robot” is old. Some technologists enthusiastically extrapolate from the observation that computing power doubles every 18 months to predict an imminent “technological singularity” in which a threshold for machines of superhuman intelligence will be suddenly surpassed. Many Singularitarians assume a lot, not the least of which is that intelligence is fundamentally a computational process. The techno-optimists among them also believe that such machines will be essentially friendly to human beings. I am skeptical about the Singularity, and even if “artificial intelligence” is not an oxymoron, “friendly A.I.” will require considerable scientific progress on a number of fronts.

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Common Ancestry and Natural Selection in Darwin’s Origin

This is a précis of an argument that I developed in an article called “Did Darwin Write the Origin Backwards?” The article was published in 2009 and may be found on my web set at An expanded version of the argument is the first chapter of a book that I’m publishing at the end

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Humans and Humanists (and Scientists)

Although humanism itself has often been controversial, until recently there has been a fair amount of consensus about the denotation of “human” among practitioners and critics. This consensus has been notably durable. In the Oxford English Dictionary, the first three senses of “human” distinguish “mankind” from animals, from “mere objects or events,” and from

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