Tobias Rees Selected as a Rockefeller Foundation Resident to Study the Future of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Humanity

Rachel S. Bauch

Berggruen Institute Director of the Transformations of the Human program, Tobias Rees, has been selected as a Resident of the Rockefeller Foundation for 2019-2020. Supporting Rees’ groundbreaking work on the ways in which contemporary technology is challenging and changing what it means to be human, Rees’ duties will be to help the Rockefeller Foundation brainstorm and build a program on Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Society.

“I am as humbled as honored,” said Rees. “For more than a century The Rockefeller Foundation’s mission of promoting the well-being of humanity is both impressive and noble. My focus area during the residency will be AI and the Human which closely ties into our work at the Berggruen Institute. I am excited about working with the Rockefeller Foundation and the other Residents as it begins exploring how to design a responsible AI future.”

Tobias Rees is the founding Director of the Institute’s Transformations of the Human Program. He also serves as Reid Hoffman Professor of Humanities at the New School for Social Research and is a Fellow of the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research. He has also worked as an advisor for many North American and European Universities for how to re-invent the human sciences. Rees is the author of dozens of articles and three books: Designs for an Anthropology of the Contemporary (2008), Plastic Reason (2016), and most recently of After Ethnos (2018).

For 60 years, The Rockefeller Foundation Bellagio Center has enabled the world’s brightest minds and most ambitious decision makers to discover and realize the greatest opportunities to address the world’s toughest challenges. It has been a catalyst for transformative ideas, collaborations, programs, and commitments from public health and economic development to agriculture, science, the humanities, and the environment since 1959. Though its support of scholars, artists, policymakers, and practitioners from around the world, the Bellagio Center introduces participants to equally accomplished peers from other fields whom they might never have the opportunity to meet. The Center has helped to forge collaborations between a wide range of thinkers and creators, and been a transformative experience for innovators who have gone on to shape the world in important ways.

About The Rockefeller Foundation
The Rockefeller Foundation advances new frontiers of science, data, policy and innovation to solve global challenges related to health, food, power and economic mobility. As a science-driven philanthropy focused on building collaborative relationships with partners and grantees, the Foundation seeks to inspire and foster large-scale human impact that promotes the well-being of humanity throughout the world by identifying and accelerating breakthrough solutions, ideas and conversations. For more information, visit

About The Berggruen Institute
The Berggruen Institute’s mission is to develop foundational ideas and shape political, economic, and social institutions for the 21st century. Providing critical analysis using an outwardly expansive and purposeful network, we bring together some of the best minds and most authoritative voices from across cultural and political boundaries to explore fundamental questions of our time. Our objective is enduring impact on the progress and direction of societies around the world. To date, projects inaugurated at the Berggruen Institute have helped develop a youth jobs plan for Europe, fostered a more open and constructive dialogue between Chinese leadership and the West, strengthened the ballot initiative process in California, and, included the creation of The WorldPost, a global media platform that brings thought leaders from around the world to share ideas. In addition, the Berggruen Prize, a $1 million award is conferred annually by an independent jury to a thinker whose ideas are shaping human self-understanding to advance humankind.

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.