Event, Reviews

Standing on the Edge: A Review of the Deep Humanities Fiery Afternoon Panel

The reason behind Victor Frankenstein’s monstrous creation originates from his emotional response and reaction to the death of his mother and a will to prevent such tragedy from reoccurring. This is the original representation of algorithms being powered by emotional data, described by Mary Shelley two hundred years ago.

panel 2
Panel 2: Katherine D. Harris, Rhonda Holberton, Martin Ford, Claire Komives, Anand Vaidya, Manjula Rajan (slide by Rhonda Holberton) PC: @EleanorBryan

In Panel 2 of the Deep Humanities Symposium held at the MLK Library of San Jose State University, the concept of emotional data fueling scientific progress was the central focus of discussion for the five panelists, the natural flow of conversation and argumentation culminating the theme into a singular question to be answered: Is modern human based technology really making a positive impact on humanity, and how do we as humans maintain our humanity in the light of technological takeover?

Each panelist represented a different area of discipline, and thus produced a vast majority of perspectives and solutions, most prominent being that of Digital Media Arts representative Rhonda Holberton and Dr. Anand Vaidya, representative of the department of Philosophy. Both panelists answer half of the question posed in powerful and unexpected ways — both of whom reflect the themes and ideas of the original inspiration of this event, Shelley’s Frankenstein.

The first half of the question relates to human impact in a simple yes or no format and is addressed by Dr Anand Vaidya (see his Position Paper), wherein he refuses to accept the choices offered and answers with a question of his own: Is humanity worthy of a positive impact at the expense of the planet and its other inhabitants? As an anti-exceptionalist, Dr Vaidya argues that humanity is no more exceptional than any other living thing, and thus should not be allowed the total responsibility of deciding what kinds of progress should or should not be made. Furthermore, he is a proponent of the panpsychism belief that all matter, living or not, possesses an element of individual consciousness, reflecting that of Shelley’s Creature maintaining the ability to think, discern, and feel despite the supposed absence of a soul or indication of true humanity. If this is the case, then, humanity is only a small part of the conscious and thus affecting beings of supposedly human-centered design.

The second part of the question, pertaining to maintaining the element of humanity in a world replete with inauthentic and created matter, is answered with an opposing viewpoint of Dr. Vaidya by Rhonda Holberton (see her Position Paper). Holberton claims in her position statement that the way to escape the virtual plane humanity has created is through the use of the very same technology used to create it. This more progressive position is attempted by Shelley’s protagonist, Victor Frankenstein in his creation of the second Creature, a mate for the original monstrosity. While Frankenstein chooses to abort the Creature before its completion in order to avoid further consequences, Holberton proposes the embracing of modern technology as a way to lead humanity out and away from the edge of total technological takeover.

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