Tuesday, April 5, 2022 - 7:30pm - 9:00pm
Hybrid: Kirby Hall of Civil Rights 104 & Zoom
Meghan O'Gieblyn, author and essayist
Richard Brautigan's 1967 poem "All Watched Over By Machines of Loving Grace," imagines a world in which machines, animals, and humans live together "in mutually programming harmony," a future where technology reenchants our lives and reunites us with the natural world from which we are alienated. It's a vision that recalls the description of the Messianic Age in the book of Isaiah, in which the lion lays down with the lamb and earthly life restored to its original, Edenic state. Visions of the future have a way of returning to the past, and the latest technologies—from AI personal assistants, to robotic pets, to algorithms that write poems and short stories—frequently raise questions that were once explored by religious and spiritual traditions: What is the relationship between the human and the nonhuman? How does matter become intelligent? Can a creator ever be outwitted by its own creation? In this talk, Meghan O'Gieblyn, who studied theology before becoming an essayist and technology critic, will take up some of these questions, discussing how spiritual impulses and religious metaphors have, historically, become entwined with technological ambitions, from Alan Turing's response to the "theological objection" to AI, to the MIT computer scientists who regarded programming as a form of Kabbalah, to Norbert Wiener, the father of cybernetics, who found in machine-learning algorithms an analogy for the relationship between God and creation. As artificial intelligence continues to surpass humans in various benchmarks of intelligence, and Silicon Valley luminaries take up the spiritual language of reenchantment, the ramifications of older theological debates might clarify what is at stake in our current relationship to emerging technologies. 
Meghan O'Gieblyn is the author of Interior States, which won the 2018 Believer Book Award for nonfiction, and God Human Animal Machine, which is currently a finalist for the 2022 LA Times Book Prize. Her essays and criticism have appeared in The New Yorker, Harper's Magazine, The New York Times, The Guardian, The Believer, Bookforum, and elsewhere. She is the recipient of three Pushcart Prizes and her work has been anthologized in The Best American Essays 2017 and The Contemporary American Essay (2021). She also writes the “Cloud Support” advice column for Wired.
This is a hybrid event. To join this event virtually by Zoom, please click here to register
This event is generously sponsored by Cyril S. Lang '49 Center for the Humanities Endowment Fund, the Engineering Division, The Daniel and Heidi Hanson ’91 Center for Inclusive STEM Education, the Engineering Studies department, the English department, The Class of 1974 Technology and Liberal Arts Endowment, the Provost Office, the Religious Studies department, the Philosophy department, and the Computer Science department.