Public Events

In Our Image: Artificial Intelligence and the Humanities

In Our Image: Artificial Intelligence and the Humanities

April 7–22, 2021   #AIHumanities2021

A National Humanities Center Virtual Conference Exploring the Critical Intersection between the Humanities and Artificial Intelligence

Artificial intelligence has infiltrated our daily lives—in the ways we conduct business, govern, provide healthcare and security, and communicate. The large-scale cultural and societal implications of these changes—and the ethical questions they raise—pose a serious challenge as we embrace a future increasingly shaped by the implementation of artificial intelligence technology.

In Our Image included a series of virtual events—presentations, conversations, webinars, film screenings, and an art exhibition—highlighting perspectives from leading humanists, scientists, engineers, artists, writers, and software company executives collectively advancing inquiry into key emerging questions.

Meet the presenters

Session Recordings

Webinar for Educators: “Teaching Artificial Intelligence: Exploring New Frontiers for Learning”

  • Andy Mink, Moderator, Vice President for Education Programs, National Humanities Center
  • Michelle Zimmerman, Executive Director, Renton Prep
For many, artificial intelligence may seem like a new and possibly overwhelming concept. The reality is that artificial intelligence is already being applied in industry and, for many of us, in our daily lives as well. A better understanding of artificial intelligence can help you make informed decisions now that will impact the future of your learners. This webinar will feature perspectives from educators and industry experts on how they are using artificial intelligence; approaches to teaching about artificial intelligence, including design thinking, project-based learning and interdisciplinary connections; tools for exploring artificial intelligence and sharing it with your students; and activities to introduce artificial intelligence concepts, reflection questions and lesson ideas. Most importantly, we will discuss how the humanities can provide a critical lens to the use of artificial intelligence in teaching and learning.

Panel Discussion: Can Artificial Intelligence Create, and What Is the Role of the Artist?

  • Marian Mazzone, Moderator, Professor of Fine Arts, College of Charleston
  • Ahmed Elgammal, Professor of Computer Science, Founder and Director of the Art and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, Rutgers University
  • Carla Gannis, Interdisciplinary artist and educator, NYU Tandon School of Engineering
With the prevalence of artificial intelligence in our daily lives, it’s natural to ask, “What will be the future of art in an AI-driven society?” This question becomes even more relevant as AI increasingly appears in the creative domain. Across human history, artists have always integrated new technologies into their practice—from oil paint and printmaking in the Renaissance to photography, motion pictures, and computer animation in the modern era. AI is no exception, yet we need to understand how it is different.

Keynote Address: “Regressing to Eugenics? Technologies and Histories of Recognition,” Wendy Chun, Simon Fraser University

Panel Discussion: How Has Artificial Intelligence Challenged the Boundaries of Humanistic Thinking and How Might the Humanities Provide New Models for Artificial Intelligence?

  • Matthew Booker, Moderator, Vice President for Scholarly Programs, National Humanities Center
  • Wendy Chun, Canada 150 Research Chair in New Media, Simon Fraser University
  • Hsien-hao Sebastian Liao, Dean, Institute for Advanced Studies for Humanities and Social Sciences, National Taiwan University
  • Safiya Umoja Noble, Associate Professor, Departments of Information Studies and African American Studies, UCLA
  • Walter Sinnott-Armstrong, Chauncey Stillman Professor of Practical Ethics, Kenan Institute, Duke University
How might machine learning models truly learn? How might collaboration between humanists and technologists produce more rigorous forms of learning and verification? It seems the attempt to make artificial intelligence that has emotions could at best enable AI to possess simulated human emotions rather than spontaneous emotions, not to mention malevolent intentions. Nevertheless, does this completely eliminate the possibility that AI would intentionally do evil even if not programmed to? Can any AI system make its own moral judgments? Can AI systems be used to improve human moral judgments? Can philosophers help develop AIs to do any of this?

Demonstration of IPsoft’s Amelia: “The Most Human Artificial Intelligence Platform on the Market,” Chetan Dube, IPsoft

Panel Discussion: Can Morality Be Built into Computers?

Do we believe digital employees will become indistinguishable from human employees this decade? As democratization of AI leads to proliferation of such digital agents, how should we prepare for humans to continue to be in command? When questioning if morality can be built into computers, we must simultaneously ask: whose morality? Could there be a successful deep learning AI that answers moral dilemmas? Or is there reason to think that matters are different in the case of morality?

Film Series and Discussion: In Whose Image? Envisioning an Inclusive and Vibrant AI Future

  • Wesley Hogan, Moderator, Director, Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University
  • Natalie Bullock Brown, Assistant Teaching Professor, Department of Interdisciplinary Studies, North Carolina State University
  • Marsha Gordon, Professor of Film Studies, North Carolina State University
  • Shalini Kantayya, Film Director and Producer, Coded Bias
If human beings are creating artificial intelligence that influences the future, who determines which of us get to imagine that future? Whose voices will be heard, and whose imagination and vision will be realized? Films discussed include The Black Baptism, Coded Bias, Dirty Computer, and Her.

Panel Discussion: How Do We Address Privacy in the World of Artificial Intelligence?

  • Matthew Booker, Moderator, Vice President for Scholarly Programs, National Humanities Center
  • Nita A. Farahany, Robinson O. Everett Professor of Law & Philosophy, Founding Director of Duke Science & Society, Chair of the Duke MA in Bioethics & Science Policy, Duke University
  • Sarah E. Igo, Andrew Jackson Professor of History, Professor of Law, Professor of Political Science, Professor of Sociology, Vanderbilt University
  • Dr. Louis J. Muglia, President, Burroughs Wellcome Fund
Artificial intelligence has transformed what we can learn and decipher from the brain. Are we mistaken to refer to our personal information as “ours” or to claim individual privacy rights to those multifarious details being scooped up by data miners and aggregators? Might there be better, more apt ways to think about individual privacy and personal information—perhaps as collective or public goods? What level of privacy risk is acceptable in trying to use health care data for discovery in the framework of de-identified yet still potentially discoverable information? What is the actual risk from “discoverability”—individual re-identification from de-identified sources?

Special Session: “Shakespeare in High Dimensional Data Spaces”

Shakespeare’s enduring influence, his facility with language, and his empathic depiction of the human experience contribute not only to our sense of his genius, but make him an irresistible subject for artificial intelligence researchers.

Concluding Panel: Where Do We Go from Here? The Future of Artificial Intelligence and the Humanities

  • Robert D. Newman, Moderator, President and Director, National Humanities Center
  • Paul Alivisatos, Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor, Samsung Distinguished Professor of Nanoscience and Nanotechnology, University of California, Berkeley
  • Tobias Rees, Reid Hoffman Professor at The New School of Social Research and Director of the Berggruen Institute
  • Abby Smith Rumsey, Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences
  • Şerife (Sherry) Wong, Artist, Icarus Salon and Researcher at the Berggruen Institute
Artificial intelligence allows us to experience and compare many different methods of making sense of the world. How can universities support this kind of multiplication and polyvalence in relation to the humanities and AI? Is the “human” we in the humanities defend against the machine actually defensible? And is the image of the machine we uphold as the non-human actually reflecting the kinds of machines AI engineers are building today? If human intelligence is by definition always embodied, what does this mean for artificial intelligence and the promise or fear that it will serve (the promise) or replace (the fear) human ends? Is there something unique about artificial intelligence that makes it different from how other technologies have impacted humans?

Additional Research and Teaching Resources

Conference Bibliography

This bibliography was compiled by the conference organizers and presenters to both inform and prompt further study and inquiry.

How Has Artificial Intelligence Challenged the Boundaries of Humanistic Thinking?
  • Wendy Chun, “Red Pill Toxicity, or Liberation Envy,” Discriminating Data (The MIT Press, forthcoming)
  • Steven Shaviro, “Actual Entities and Eternal Objects,” Without Criteria: Kant, Deleuze, and Aesthetics (University of Minnesota Press, 2014)
  • Joshua August Skorburg, Walter Sinnott-Armstrong, and Vincent Conitzer, “AI Methods in Bioethics,” AJOB Empirical Bioethics 11, no. 1 (2020): 37–39
Can Morality Be Built into Computers?
  • Tom Bawden, “Scientists Create the World’s First ‘Empathetic’ Robot,” Science, January 11, 2021
  • Ruha Benjamin, Race After Technology: Abolitionist Tools for the New Jim Code (Wiley, 2019)
  • Meredith Broussard, Artificial Unintelligence: How Computers Misunderstand the World (The MIT Press, 2018)
  • Meredith Broussard, “When Algorithms Give Real Students Imaginary Grades,” The New York Times, September 8, 2020
  • David Theo Goldberg, “Coding Time,” Critical Times 2, no. 3 (2019): 353–69
  • Mar Hicks, Programmed Inequality: How Britain Discarded Women Technologists and Lost Its Edge in Computing (The MIT Press, 2017)
  • Charlton McIlwain, Black Software: The Internet and Racial Justice, from the AfroNet to Black Lives Matter (Oxford University Press, 2019)
  • Safiya Noble, Algorithms of Oppression: How Search Engines Reinforce Racism (New York University Press, 2018)
How Do We Address Privacy in the World of Artificial Intelligence?
  • Ross Andersen, “China’s Artificial Intelligence Surveillance State Goes Global,” The Atlantic, September 2020
  • Nina Farahany, “The Costs of Changing Our Minds,” Emory Law Journal 69, no. 1 (2019): 75–110
  • Sarah E. Igo, “Me and My Data,” Historical Studies in the Natural Sciences 48, no. 5 Special Issue on Histories of Data and the Database (December 2018): 616–26
  • Daniel Rosenberg, “Whence ‘Data’?,” Berlin Journal 28 (Spring 2015): 18–22
  • Chandra Thapa, and Seyit Camtepe, “Precision Health Data: Requirements, Challenges and Existing Techniques for Data Security and Privacy,” Computers in Biology and Medicine, 129 (2021)
Where Do We Go from Here? The Future of Artificial Intelligence and the Humanities
  • James Abello, et al., “Culture Analytics: An Introduction” (white paper published by the Institute for Practical and Applied Mathematics, University of California, Los Angeles 2016)
  • Antonio Damasio, “A Passion for Reason,” Descartes’ Error: Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain (Harper Perennial, 1995)
  • Tobias Rees, “Machine/Intelligence: On the Philosophical Stakes of AI Today,” Beyond the Uncanny Valley: Being Human in the Age of AI (Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, 2020)
  • Şerife (Sherry) Wong, “AI Justice: When AI Principles Are Not Enough,” Medium, August 5, 2019


Thanks to generous support from our sponsors, this conference is offered free of charge. However, registration is required to access conference sessions, view films, and explore the online art exhibit.
Please note: separate registration is required for the April 7 webinar, “Teaching Artificial Intelligence: Exploring New Frontiers for Learning”