The Transformations of the Human: How New and Emerging Technologies Affect How Human Beings View Themselves, Others and Their Lives.

April 3, 2019

2pm USC

Motorists who navigated their way around Los Angeles 25 years ago were guided by a mental map of the city. That and a Thomas Guide, a spiral-bound, often dog-eared and salsa-stained book of maps that sat on the passenger seat.

But those maps inside our heads are rapidly being replaced by those in our GPS apps. How, if at all, does that change us as human beings? Does it rewire our brains in subtle ways? Do we look at where we live differently? To what extent, if any, does it change us into better or worse people?

These are a small sample of the kinds of questions that scholars from USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences and the 2018–19 USC Dornsife Berggruen Fellows will wrestle with at a discussion titled The Transformations of the Human on April 3 from 2 to 4 p.m.

The gathering will examine how new technologies are changing how we understand ourselves as individuals, in relationships and as a species. Topics will include how we continue to integrate technology with our minds and bodies, and what will it mean to be human in the future. (Are we still homo sapiens if our brains are supercharged by microchips?) The panelists will also look at the coming implications of genomics, artificial intelligence and neuroscience for understanding who we are.

“Our current language for what it means to be a human being is increasingly inadequate,” said Nils Gilman, vice president of programs for the Berggruen Institute.

The L.A.-based Berggruen Institute was founded in 2010 to develop foundational ideas about how to reshape political and social institutions at a time of enormous global change and when so many of our institutions seem inadequate. It is distinguished from many think tanks in that its fellows do just one thing: They think. There’s no partisan agenda — just the pursuit of knowledge.

USC Dornsife entered into a collaboration with Berggruen Institute to host visiting scholars as a means to broaden its pursuit of answers to fundamental questions about human existence. The fellows meet regularly with USC Dornsife scholars to share findings and explore new areas of inquiry.

“While we spend a lot of time talking about technological innovation, there isn’t as much attention paid to corresponding innovations in political philosophy, the history of ideas and ethics. But these areas are fundamental to understanding changes in the way we live,” said Andrew Lakoff, USC Dornsife divisional dean for social sciences and professor of sociology.

“I see the fellowship program as a launching pad for a richer interaction between our scholars and other thinkers in the region and an opportunity to give them a public platform.”

Expert panelists

The USC Dornsife panelists include:

  • Antonio Damasio, University Professor, professor of psychology, philosophy and neurology, and David Dornsife Chair in Neuroscience;

  • Susanna Berger, assistant professor of art history.

The panelists from the 2018–19 Berggruen Fellows at USC Dornsife will include:

  • Hannah Landecker, professor of sociology at UCLA;

  • Josh Berson, author of Computable Bodies: Instrumented Life and the Human Somatic Niche(Bloomsbury Academic, 2015); and

  • Helene Mialet, associate professor of science and technology studies, York University, Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

Click here to register for the event.

composed by Arswain
machine learning consultation by Anna Tskhovrebov
commissioned by the Berggruen Institute
premiered at the Bradbury Building
downtown Los Angeles
april 22, 2022

Human perception of what sounds “beautiful” is necessarily biased and exclusive. If we are to truly expand our hearing apparatus, and thus our notion of beauty, we must not only shed preconceived sonic associations but also invite creative participation from beings non-human and non-living. We must also begin to cede creative control away from ourselves and toward such beings by encouraging them to exercise their own standards of beauty and collaborate with each other.

Movement I: Alarm Call
‘Alarm Call’ is a long-form composition and sound collage that juxtaposes, combines, and manipulates alarm calls from various human, non-human, and non-living beings. Evolutionary biologists understand the alarm call to be an altruistic behavior between species, who, by warning others of danger, place themselves by instinct in a broader system of belonging. The piece poses the question: how might we hear better to broaden and enhance our sense of belonging in the universe? Might we behave more altruistically if we better heed the calls of – and call out to – non-human beings?

Using granular synthesis, biofeedback, and algorithmic modulation, I fold the human alarm call – the siren – into non-human alarm calls, generating novel “inter-being” sonic collaborations with increasing sophistication and complexity. 

Movement II: A.I.-Truism
A synthesizer piece co-written with an AI in the style of Vangelis’s Blade Runner score, to pay homage to the space of the Bradbury Building.

Movement III: Alarmism
A machine learning model “learns” A.I.Truism and recreates Alarm Call, generating an original fusion of the two.

Movement IV: A.I. Call
A machine learning model “learns” Alarm Call and recreates A.I.Truism, generating an original fusion of the two.