Polymathic Pizza: Atomatons and AI

Apr 17 2024
When: 5:00 PM - 6:30 PM
Where: Harman Academy
Event Type: Polymathic Pizza
RSVP Required
RSVP Code: PIZZA0417
RSVP By: Wed, 04/17/2024

Event Details

AI: computer technology that allows something to be done in a way that is similar to the way a human would do it. ~ Cambridge Dictionary

“It’s alive, IT’S ALIVE!!”  ~ Gene Wilder as Victor Frankenstein in Young Frankenstein

Like all technologies before it, artificial intelligence will reflect the values of its creators. ~ Kate Crawford

Mary Shelley’s novel Frankenstein written in 1818, reflected the anxieties about technological and scientific advances of her time. Bringing Frankenstein into the present, Shelley’s creature arguably embodied algorithmic learning; he was machine intelligence.  Shelley was exploring, writes Charlotte McKee, “the ethics and morality of an artificially-made, super-intelligent being” long before the emergence of the AI technology that we are familiar with.

Curiosity about artificially made human-like machines predates Shelley by centuries.  During the Renaissance Era this technology was called automata and human like machines in the form of Christ, Mary, angels, and various saints were all the rage…and largely sponsored by the arbiters of ethics and morality at that time, the Catholic Church.  Automatons at that time were far from threatening; indeed, they were thought to integrate both the mechanical and divine simultaneously.  

Shelley’s prescient thinking about technology having the potential to bring humanity down an uncontrolled, destructive path is something we wrestle with now within the domain of artificial intelligence.  AI is with us to stay, and we will need to determine, as Stephen Hawking cautioned, “whether it is the best or worst thing to happen to us.”  For this final Polymathic Pizza session, Professor Heather Culberston and Dr. Curtis Fletcher, experts in the fields of human-computer interfacing or HCI and the history of technology respectively, will help us understand the promise of AI while keeping watch on the creature we are creating. 

Each spring session will be paired with an Ahmanson Lab workshop on a related topic.

Speaker Information

Heather Culberston

Heather Culberston

WiSE Gabilan Assistant Professor and Assistant Professor of Computer Science and Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering

Heather Culbertson is a Gabilan Assistant Professor of Computer Science at the University of Southern California. Her research investigates how we use our sense of touch to communicate with the physical world and uses this knowledge to design haptic devices and rendering algorithms. The goal of her research is to leverage our knowledge of the human sense of touch to create haptic interactions that are natural and realistically mimic their physical counterparts. She is interested in applying these haptic devices to applications in virtual reality, medicine, human-robot interaction, and HCI.

Curtis Fletcher

Curtis Fletcher

Director of the Ahmanson Lab

Curtis Fletcher received his Ph.D. in History from USC.  His research draws on key questions in the fields of media studies, visual studies, science and technology studies, and the history of technology. His published works examine the history of educational technology, the history of humanities education, and the history of the digital humanities. His work in the digital humanities focuses on multimedia and multimodal authoring and publishing, digital pedagogy, critical making, and the development of extended reality (XR) humanities projects. Dr. Fletcher also serves as Co-Director of the multimedia authoring platform, Scalar, and for the Alliance for Networking Visual Culture.