Event, Frankenstein Thoughts

What is Deep Humanities?

While our Frankenstein Bicentennial celebrations have concluded. The events and collaborations sparked an entirely new line of inquiry. We’ll keep this website public but have only this final update to bring you:

In Spring 2018, San Jose State University successfully initiated a conversation around this idea of “Deep Humanities” sparked by the Frankenstein Bicentennial celebratory events. The first event, the Spring 2018 poster session and one-day symposium, gave way to a series of Deep Humanities lectures in Fall 2018 that has now evolved into a Deep Humanities Institute @ SJSU. Dr. Revathi Krishnaswamy initiated this intellectual exploration, which was then deepened by the position papers of the symposium participants, Dean Shannon Miller, and the ensuing lecture series in Fall 2018. As we embark upon a larger conversation with the Deep Humanities Initiative, let’s take a moment to revisit these foundational ideas about Deep Humanities:


What is “Deep Humanities”? 

– By Dr. Revathi Krishnaswamy –

Silicon Valley’s tech titans have not only dazzled us with their brilliant technological inventions and innovations, but also captivated us with their idealistic talk of social justice and utopian visions of a brave new world.  For decades, the immense economic, political, and cultural power of Silicon Valley has gone largely unquestioned.  But the alarming invasion of privacy, “fake news,” sexual harassment and discrimination, have raised a number of urgent questions about the Valley’s tech titans.  Is Silicon Valley really promoting social justice or rapidly widening the gulf between the haves and the have-nots?  Are the tech titans creating inclusive communities or embracing a radical libertarian individualism hostile to women and other minorities? Are they optimizing for profit and disrupting for dominance at the expense of democracy, civility, morality, ethics, and empathy? Is Silicon Valley the answer to humanity’s problems or a threat to humanity as we know it? How are artificial intelligence (“AI”) and other emerging technologies redefining what it means to be human in the digital age?  What role can the humanities play in making technological innovation human centered?

All too often, the Humanities and Arts are reduced to “soft skills,” “business ethics” and “product design” while humanistic traditions of creativity and contemplation are appropriated to boost productivity and profit. But as technology changes what it means and how it means to be human, we need to redefine H&A’s relationship to tech and integrate/embed the Humanities/Arts deeply into every aspect of tech, from conception, design, and development to use, abuse, and disposal. Paralleling the notion of deep learning in computer science, the concept of Deep Humanities deals with the deep structures of culture, communication, and interpretation, networks of affect, belief and bias, representations of cognition and consciousness, as well as theoretical models of ethics, aesthetics, and humanism.  As such,“Deep Humanities and Deep Arts” aims to bring our cumulative accumulated knowledge about the practice of being human to engage the urgent issues raised by emerging technologies and the tech industry including:

Bias — not only social or cultural bias but also algorithmic bias

Design — affective, empathic, inclusive, and human centered approaches to design.

Ethics – ethical ways of conceiving and connecting human with nonhuman

Culture —  not as a stable set of practices to be manipulated or overcome, but as a dynamic site of struggle for meaning

The Ensuing Conversations

Position Papers from Spring 2018 One-Day Symposium

Dean Miller’s Explanations

Two months ago, when we kicked off our first event here at SJSU to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the publication of Mary Shelley’s FrankensteinI engaged the cover art of a weekly magazine which pictured Mark Zuckerberg standing over the “monster” he has created – a “Frankenstein” Facebook that he no longer knows how to control – as a perfect metaphor for a technology that has gotten out of one’s control.  image of zuckerberg and frankenstein creature

That was before a Uber car killed a woman in Tempe, Arizona, where a highly unregulated political environment drew Uber to beta-test self-driving cars. That was before Tesla had additional problems with the car’s autonomous mode. And it was before we found out that Cambridge Analytica hacked millions of Facebook users, prompting soul searching about privacy by Facebook’s users, and a congressional inquiry into Facebook’s practices. And this last week, the use of a public DNA site to help solve a terrifying cold case has reanimated these questions about privacy versus information. 200 years after Mary Shelley painted a complex portrait of how ethical responsibility must be embedded within the act of innovation, we have had almost weekly examples that underscore a main theme in her text.

This day exploring “Deep Humanities” is premised on the idea that the humanities and the arts have a powerful and increasingly important role to play in the world of STEM. 5.1_frankenstemv1Our “FrankenSTEM” poster playfully weaves these questions back into a novelist’s portrait that morphs into the horror genre (then morphs into camp); Shelley’s novel began as a reflection on the power, and the challenges, of technology. As such, it speaks to the power of the arts to imagine new possibilities and worlds, as well as new terrors – whether Mary Shelley’s portrait of Dr. Frankenstein’s creation, or the second season of Westworld, which imaginatively engages much of what the two panels today will interrogate: artificial intelligence, algorithimic bias, and ways that the practices of the humanities can engage, question, and ideally improve the technology that surrounds us in the Silicon Valley.   Our premise within “Deep Humanities” is that the humanities provide us a critical framework to evaluate our decision making practices, and ideally help us make better, more inclusive, and more ethical decisions around increasingly complex technologies that do not just fill our lives; they more and more are framing them.

Our day of panels and student presentations take up these issues, which seem more urgent than ever before, and more relevant than ever before here in the Silicon Valley. The College of Humanities and the Arts here at San Jose State is interrogating these issues through the liberal arts and the performing arts.

Subsequent Events & Reviews

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