Past Conversations

Fall 2023

  • vr thumbnail

    VR: A Solution Without A Problem?

    September 5, 2023 | 3:00pm - 4:00pm

    Virtual reality (VR) has been lauded for its groundbreaking potential to redefine how we interact with digital environments, yet its practical, everyday applications remain elusive for most. While the technology offers unparalleled immersive experiences, its practical applications often appear limited, overshadowed by the novelty of the experience itself. The high costs of adoption, both in terms of equipment and content creation, further compound the challenge. Some critics thus argue that VR, in many cases, represents an impressive technological feat searching for a truly essential application, rather than addressing a pre-existing, widespread need.

    Topics of conversation might include: Will VR always be a niche technology for gamers and other tech enthusiasts or will the metaverse (promoted by Meta) or spatial computing (marketed by Apple’s new Vision Pro) become mainstream? How has the narrative of virtual reality's potential outpaced its real-world applications, and what does this disconnect reveal more generally about technology adoption? With emerging technologies like augmented reality (AR) offering more seamless integration into daily life, how does VR maintain its unique value proposition?
  • future of social media thumbnail

    The Future of Social Media

    September 19, 2023 | 3:00pm - 4:00pm

    As social media companies seek to expand, or even maintain, their market position, they will likely develop their platforms to integrate into more areas of our daily lives and activities. We already see glimpses of this expansion. With the rise of the metaverse, social interactions may evolve from flat, screen-based engagements to immersive, three-dimensional shared experiences, potentially redefining the very essence of online community. As platforms like WeChat, and now X (formerly known as Twitter) move into the financial sector, social media may transform from mere communication tools to comprehensive hubs for transactions, payments, and commerce.

    Topics of conversation might include: Are there benefits to having social media platforms act as all-encompassing ecosystems that centralize various sectors of our lives like communication, culture, finance, commerce, and healthcare? Are there ethical concerns? How might regulatory bodies address the aggressive expansion strategies of social media giants, especially when they start to monopolize additional areas of daily life?
  • superintelligence

    Artificial Superintelligence

    October 3, 2023 | 3:00pm - 4:00pm

    Artificial superintelligence (ASI) refers to a hypothetical form of AI that surpasses human intelligence across all fields, from creative arts to scientific research. Unlike contemporary AI, which excels in specific tasks, ASI would be capable of outperforming the best human minds in every domain. The emergence of ASI raises profound ethical, safety, and existential questions about its potential impact on society and humanity's future.

    Topics of conversation might include: How far do we think we are away from artificial general intelligence as well as superintelligence? How can we ensure that superintelligent entities act in humanity's best interests, and what fail-safes are necessary to prevent unintended consequences? What happens when an ASI is capable of building an AI superior to itself (e.g. and that subsequent AI is capable of building an AI superior to itself etc…)?

  • persuisive technologies thumbnail

    Persuasive Technologies

    October 17, 2023 | 3:00pm - 4:00pm

    Social media companies meticulously design their platforms using persuasive techniques to maximize user engagement, capitalizing on the new "attention economy." Features like endless scrolling, notifications, and "like" systems exploit human psychology (in many cases, our dopamine delivery system), driving users to seek validation and spend more time on the platform. By leveraging algorithms that curate content based on user behavior, these platforms ensure that users are constantly presented with personalized, captivating content, making it difficult to disengage.

    Topics of conversation might include: What is the impact of persuasive design and addictive user interfaces on mental health and well-being? What are the psychological impacts of validation mechanisms, such as "likes," “followers,” and "comments"? Are they fostering a new kind of social dependency? How might future platforms adapt or change to capture even more of our attention (e.g. in the metaverse), and what defenses can individuals adopt?
  • turing test

    The Turing Test

    October 31, 2023 | 3:00pm - 4:00pm

    As part of the rules for the Turing Test (AKA “the imitation game”), Alan Turing proposed in 1950 that a machine can be said to be intelligent if it has the ability to exhibit intelligent behavior that is indistinguishable from that of a human. Though a controversial metric for artificial general intelligence, a prize has been offered every year since 1990 for any system that can fool a significant number of judges into believing that a human is on the other side of chat-based conversation. How does the Turing Test hold up at a time when AI has entered into new areas of creative human activity?

    Topics of conversation might include: Is the ability to parrot human behavior or use of language a true test of machine intelligence? Is the Turing Test more or less relevant with the emergence of machine learning, large language models, and text-to-image generators? What are other limitations of the Turing Test as a true measure of intelligence? What are better alternatives?
  • Affective Computing Conversation

    Affective Computing

    November 14, 2023 | 3:00pm - 4:00pm

    Affective computing is a branch of computer science and artificial intelligence that focuses on the design and development of systems capable of recognizing, interpreting, and simulating human emotions. By integrating sensors, software, and algorithms, these systems can respond to user emotions in a way that appears emotionally intelligent. While the current aim of affective computing is to improve human-computer interaction by making devices more responsive to the emotional states of their users, there's potential for such systems to be used manipulatively, altering content or responses to exploit users' emotional states for profit or other motives.

    Topics of conversation might include: As technology becomes more emotionally responsive, how can we strike a balance to prevent over-dependence on machines for emotional validation or support? In what ways might affective computing be used for emotional manipulation, and how can we prevent such misuse? How can we make users aware of when and how their emotional state is being monitored, and what rights do they have concerning the use and storage of this data?

  • Technology as Religion Thumbnail

    Technology as Religion

    November 28, 2023 | 3:00pm - 4:00pm

    Technology presents paradigms that parallel religious concepts, offering alternative interpretations of age-old beliefs. Indeed, cutting-edge technologies enable even staunch materialists in places like Silicon Valley, (e.g. Ray Kurzweil) to embrace beliefs typically associated with metaphysics or religion. For instance, the notion of uploading one's consciousness to a computer resonates with the religious promise of eternal life, suggesting a digital transcendence beyond physical mortality. Similarly, the theory that we exist within a computer simulation mirrors religious beliefs of a realm or existence beyond our perceived reality, hinting at layers of creation we've yet to understand. Furthermore, as we edge closer to creating an Artificial Superintelligence, it can be perceived as a god-like entity, possessing knowledge and power far beyond human comprehension.

    Topics of conversation might include: As Artificial Intelligence and other technologies become increasingly integrated into daily life, how might religious interpretations of the soul, consciousness, and existence evolve? Can technological developments truly replace or serve as alternatives to religious beliefs (can they for instance, give our lives meaning and purpose ), or do they simply offer another layer of interpretation for our existential questions? How might these interpretations differ across cultures and belief systems?

Spring 2023

  • twitter


    January 25, 2023 | 3:00pm - 4:00pm

    Twitter has had a significant impact on the way people communicate and share information. It has enabled individuals and organizations to reach large audiences quickly and easily and has become an important tool for networking and building communities. However, since Elon Musk’s acquisition of the platform in October 2022, its policies and social impact have received renewed scrutiny.

    Areas of conversation may include: What are Twitter’s obligations towards moderating forms of harmful speech? Does the platform's promotion of engaging content lead to the amplification of disturbing material and fringe views? How much of Twitter is made up of chatbots and is this a problem?
  • chatgpt


    February 8, 2023 | 3:00pm - 4:00pm

    The New York Times has called ChatGPT, a large language model launched by OpenAI in December 2022, “quite simply, the best artificial intelligence chatbot ever released to the general public.” Chatgpt is capable of, among other tasks, writing expert-level essays, generating near-pristine computer code, debugging code, summarizing complex ideas, and writing poetry.

    Areas of conversation may include: How will this change how people search for, synthesize, and communicate information? How far does the technological leap represented by ChatGPT get us towards artificial general intelligence (AGI)? Which industries is this technology most likely to disrupt?
  • Transhumanism


    February 22, 2023 | 3:00pm - 4:00pm

    Transhumanism is a philosophical movement that explores the potential for human beings to evolve beyond their current physical and mental limitations through the use of technology – from tech-driven anti-aging techniques to codifying human consciousness for download into computational hardware.

    Areas of conversation may include: Which parts of the human experience are likely to be reproducible as computer code? What is the potential for using technology to extend the human lifespan? What are the ethical implications of using technology to enhance human abilities, and in particular, equity of access to such technologies?

  • ai ethics

    AI Ethics

    March 8, 2023 | 3:00pm - 4:00pm

    AI ethics refers to the ethical considerations that arise from the development and use of artificial intelligence (AI) technology. As AI continues to advance and to play an increasing role in areas from healthcare to education and criminal justice, ethical implications of AI will need to be carefully considered.

    Areas of conversation may include: How do we ensure that AI is used in a way that is fair, equitable, and respects the dignity of all individuals? How do we prevent current AI systems, which are trained on existing data, from perpetuating and amplifying social biases by engaging in algorithmically discriminatory practices?
  • metverse

    The Metaverse

    March 22, 2023 | 3:00pm - 4:00pm

    The Metaverse is being developed and promoted by a variety of technology companies and researchers.

    Areas of conversation may include: Will the Metaverse create new opportunities for social interaction and collaboration or lead to isolation and disconnection? How will the Metaverse impact issues of identity, privacy, and security? How might people be able to create multiple virtual identities, and how will their online and offline identities will be linked? How may the Metaverse lead to greater inequality, with some individuals and communities having greater access to and control over virtual resources than others?
  • living in a simulation

    Living in a Simulation

    March 29, 2023 | 3:00pm - 4:00pm

    The topic of whether or not we are living in a simulation has garnered a lot of attention in recent years. Scientists and philosophers have weighed in on the matter, with some arguing that it is statistically likely that we are living in a computer-generated reality.

    Areas of conversation may include: What are the arguments for and against the idea that our reality is a simulation? What are the implications of this idea and what could it mean for our understanding of the universe and our place within it? What are the ways in which this concept has been explored in popular culture, such as in the film "The Matrix"?

  • ai bill of rights

    AI Bill of Rights

    April 12, 2023 | 3:00pm - 4:00pm

    In October of 2022, the Office of Science and Technology Policy released The White House Blueprint for an AI Bill of Rights. The Bill of Rights is a set of guidelines that outline the rights and responsibilities of artificial intelligence (AI) systems and their creators—from issues of data privacy to algorithmic decision-making systems for financial lending and court-ordered probation.

    Areas of conversation may include: What are the potential impacts of AI on society and the economy? What role should the government play in regulating the use of AI? What are the ethical considerations of AI development, particularly in industries such as healthcare, education, and criminal justice?
  • post truth


    April 26, 2023 | 3:00pm - 4:00pm

    The notion of a "post-truth" world has gained significant traction in recent years, with many people pointing to the proliferation of fake news and misinformation as evidence that we are now living in a time where objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion.

    Areas of conversation may include: How do we combat the increasing difficulty of distinguishing between legitimate news sources and those that are deliberately trying to mislead? Are people, with less agreed upon evidence to consider, more likely to base decisions on emotions and personal beliefs? What is the potential role of artificial intelligence-powered text and image generators in the dissemination of disinformation?