Nov 18: Between hype and hysteria: AI and the Humanities

Place and time: Humlab, Nov 18, 10-16.00

As artificial intelligence systems rapidly diffuse into our contemporary lifeworlds, the possible benefits and hazards of such systems demand continued ethical and political evaluation. More fundamentally, these systems, including social robots, sexbots, and biometric technologies, return us to the most basic questions of the humanities, such as “What does it mean to be human?” and “What are good lives for human beings?”

In our event ”Between hype and hysteria: AI and the Humanities” these questions will be explore through two keynote addresses and a panel discussion. A first presentation by Dr. Charles Ess (University of Oslo) will review carebots, sexbots, “blessing robots,” theomorphic robots, chatbots, and pre-emptive policing systems.  Drawing on diverse perspectives from ethics, philosophical anthropology, and religious studies, he will show how these systems help us gain greater clarity regarding our basic assumptions regarding being human, love and sexuality, and our capacities for freedom and ethical judgment.

The second presentation by Amanda Lagerkvist (Uppsala University) will introduce the project BioMe: Existential challenges and ethical imperatives of biometric AI in everyday lifeworlds” (part of the WASP-HS project) which explores the risks and potentials of AI-driven biometric technologies – e.g., fingerprint scanners, voice and facial recognition systems, sensors monitoring heart rate, and so on from the perspective of existential media studies, which focuses on the relationships between our originary human technicity, embodied vulnerability and ethical responsibility.

As final of the event a panel discussion will follow, providing the opportunity to pursue these and related issues with the speakers and participants. Gavin Feller, postdoctoral fellow at Humlab, will moderate the discussion.


10:00 Intro to event + coffee

10:15-11:30 TALK: “Love, Sex, G*d, and Power: Being/becoming human in an AI world,” Charles Ess

11:30 – 12:30 Lunch (for registered before Nov 12)

12:30 – 14:00 TALK: “BioMe: a new project on AI as existential media”, Amanda Lagerkvist

14:00-14:30 Coffee break

14:30- 16:00 Panel discussion with Charles Ess and Amanda Lagerkvist moderated by Gavin Feller.



Amanda Lagerkvist is a media phenomenologist, an associate professor in media and communication Studies, and a research fellow at the Department of Informatics and Media at Uppsala University. Lagerkvist is also principal investigator of the Uppsala Informatics and Media Hub for Digital Existence: As Wallenberg Academy Fellow (2014-2018) she founded the emergent field of ‘existential media studies’. She is currently working on a monograph, Existential Media, contracted by OUP, which focuses the broader merits of existential philosophy for media studies in the context of the increasing digitalization of death and automation of the lifeworld. In her new project: “BioMe: Existential Challenges and Ethical Imperatives of Biometric AI in Everyday Lifeworlds” (starting 2020, and funded by the Marianne and Marcus Wallenberg Foundation within WASP-HS: she and her group will study the lived experiences of biometric AI, for example voice and face recognition technologies. She chairs the interdisciplinary research network DIGMEX, and she is the editor of Digital Existence: Ontology, Ethics and Transcendence in Digital Culture (Routledge, 2019) with a foreword by John D. Peters.

Charles M. Ess, (PhD, Pennsylvania State University, USA) is Professor in Media Studies, Department of Media and Communication, University of Oslo. He works across the intersections of philosophy, computing, applied ethics, comparative philosophy and religious studies, and media studies, with emphases on research ethics, Digital Religion, virtue ethics, and social robots. Ess has published extensively on ethical pluralism, culturally-variable ethical norms and communicative preferences in cross-cultural approaches to Information and Computing Ethics, and their applications to everyday digital media technologies; the 3rd edition of his Digital Media Ethics will be published in early 2020. He serves as co-chair and editor of the forthcoming Internet Research Ethics Guidelines 3.0, Association of Internet Researchers. He currently explores possible complementarities between ethics and the social sciences, and their implications for applied ethics in ICT design and implementation, including social robots and AI. Ess is an ethics advisor and/or co-researcher in social robotics projects. He is a founding member of the International Association for Computing and Philosophy (IACAP) and served as President (2012-2016) of the International Society for Ethics in Information Technology (INSEIT).

Gavin Feller is a postdoctoral fellow at Humlab, Umeå University, interested in the intersection of media, religion, and technology. He is currently working on a book on Mormonism and 20th Century new media and conducting research on emerging video filtering technologies for religious audiences.