​Transformations of the Human: “AI and the Human” Fellowship

Tobias Rees
Berggruen Institute

Project Summary

The vocabulary we have available to think about ourselves as humans—what it means to be human and to live a human life, what sets us apart, and what defines us as a group—increasingly fails us. The novel understanding of the human that emerges from recent advances in engineering and bio-sciences trouble the comprehension of the human that is silently transported by our terms, words, and concepts. Fields like AI research, microbiome studies, or gene editing, for example, undermine the distinction between the human and nature or between humans and machines.

Directed by Tobias Rees, the Berggruen Institute’s Transformations of the Human program emerges from a recognition of these issues. More specifically, it seeks to make the human questions at stake in AI part of AI design itself. One avenue of investigation is a research fellowship that gives junior researchers, philosophers, and social scientists an opportunity to work in AI laboratories on a daily basis. Their task is to discover philosophical questions—instances of the transformation of the human—that silently reverberate in the concrete everyday labor of the engineering researchers. This partnership with the Berggruen Institute places junior scholars in key AI labs (e.g., MIT) to observe and investigate AI programmers.

Jacob Browning’s research is particularly aligned with the project’s goal, addressing the following question: What would it mean to program a computer that cares? His research will engage engineers at MIT and NYU in the programming phase by observing them in the laboratory and capturing how issues of caring—in this case, self-expression—are discussed and formulated, even if ultimately rejected as technologically unfeasible. The aim is to collect answers over time, tracking how the work of AI labs transforms concepts that are often definitive of our humanity—creativity, cognition, personality, caring.

Project Details

Project Duration

15 February 201914 February 2022

Core Funding Area

Big Questions

Region of Activity

North America

TWCF Number

0380

Amount Awarded

$226,667

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