Unite! Summer School: The AI's have it?

Reflections on the History, Present, and Future of AI-Human Relationships

A Cooperation between the Technical University of Darmstadt, Department of History (Martina Heßler), and the University of Lisbon, Centro de Filosofia das Ciências (Alexander Gerner).

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People ask Alexa or Siri to recommend good restaurants or who caused the Second World War. Robots have become co-workers in the factory or are used as caregivers. People can buy android-like sex robots or use AI programs to create avatars as their digital doubles. During the pandemic, bots are being used as care companions for humans in order to alleviate loneliness. Algorithms „read“ images, compose music, write articles according to a given prompt, co-create works of art, write poems and books, and predict audience reactions to movies. AI software „assists“ in personnel decisions and programs and „predicts“ complex human behavior in many ways.

Long-standing visions and dreams as well as human fears seem to come true in the context of recent AI developments, especially machine learning. The division of labor between humans and machines, and the forms of human-machine interaction are undergoing a rapid change. To be sure, technology has never been merely a tool; it has always mediated human practices and self-understanding and prompted change therein. However, it has become obvious that we are currently dealing with a profound shift in human-machine relations. And this development is vexing for human self-understanding. Once again, we ask: What is it that constitutes being human? A few decades ago, it was debates on thinking and intelligence. Nowadays, concepts, such as autonomy, creativity, responsibility, or emotions, which were once considered to be genuinely and exclusively human capabilities, are being questioned, changed, and defended in the context of current AI developments: Can machines do all of this?

In this Summer School, we want to discuss and reflect on these topics, perspectives, and aspects. We would like to ask:

1. What Exactly is New about AI?

Historical classification and a detailed description are needed here. Technology, to take one example, has never been neutral. Nevertheless, bias is discussed with great concern in the context of AI where human biases are perpetuated or even reinforced by algorithms. It is therefore a new quality that needs to be understood and described carefully. The same holds true for human-machine relations. Technology has never been just a tool. It always has mediated human practices, self-understanding and futures. How would the human-machine relationship be described in the context of AI, when looked at from a historical perspective?

2. „Human“ Concepts and Machine „Capabilities“?

We would like to reflect on the change of concepts described as genuinely human, such as creativity, autonomy, play, responsibility, or thinking. What does it mean for the concept of creativity when algorithms „learn“ about and construct images? To which extent are algorithms „autonomous“? Which concept of autonomy are we referring to? What does this mean for human self-understanding? Which games can AI systems play, and how is human play and acting different from calculated and simulated action? We also have to ask which design questions or which ethical problems arise, and what this means for human-machine practices. We would like to discuss this in an exemplary and illustrative way using specific examples.

3. AI as Partner and Companion: New Human-Machine Relationships?

Collaboration, assistance, robots and AI's as companions – all this points to a new human-machine relationship. We would like to take a look at emotional relationships with AI and the ensuing change in social relationships. This ranges from dealing with voice assistants, such as Alexa or Siri, to AI media, such as AI Digital Twin Avatars (that might outlive us), as well as material artifacts such as AI toys, AI artists, robots used to assist with care-giving, and sex robots. Core terms used in the description of these face-to-AI relations are otherness, algorithmic faciality, attention engine, animation, artificial human social presence, mimesis. How do natural language expression, gestures, and high-fidelity realistic gaze get programmed, and how is human likeness and sensorimotor responsiveness of social agents mimicked? How do AI's influence human behavior and action? How do AI systems differ from face-to-face encounters between human beings? How do we, as humans, relate to an “other” created and inhabited by AI?

4. Theoretical Descriptions?

Theoretical concepts, like the Actor-Network-Theory or the New Materialism, already exist. They aim at decentralizing the human being and describe humans as entities in networks or within flat ontologies of different entities like plants, machines, systems, things. Other approaches speak of „ecology,“ „milieu,“ „field.“ Do we need new forms of description for the current transformation of human-machine relations? How can performative and aesthetic approaches contribute to new perspectives on human-machine relationships?

5. AI Ethics?

All these questions have ethical implications. This concerns the questions of responsibility (Can AI systems assume responsibility?), moral decision-making, and programming morality. We would like to discuss if there must be an ethical stance towards machines and normative or predictive AI programming and if so, to which extent.

Who Can Participate in the Summer School?

Master students and PhD students of engineering science, computer science, history, STS, philosophy, and the arts are invited to participate.

How to Participate?

Contributions to the Summer School can be, e.g., the discussion of theoretical approaches, programming examples, empirical investigations of new practices or reflections on literature, music, games, theatre, cinema, and art. Participants should give a presentation, e.g., a lecture, a poster, an intervention, a performance, or a science slam. Should you like to participate without giving a presentation, reading texts and active participation are expected.

The standard number of ECTS points for the summer school is 5 – if required, other amounts can be arranged.

How to Apply?

Please send a short letter of motivation, a proposal for your presentation (1-2 pages), and a short CV to hessler@pg.tu-darmstadt.de by May 15, 2021.

Time and Place

The Summer School will be held online from September 20-24, 2021. It is open to all Unite universities.