Day 1: University of Southern California

What Will Life Become?

Thursday, April 21 @ USC // Friday, April 22 @ Berggruen Institute // #WWLB


To participate in the Keynote Conversation and Public Forum on April 21, join us in person at USC Michelson Hall 101 or over YouTube beginning at 1:00 p.m. We’ll also send you the findings of the Workshop. Please register here.

1:00 pm: Keynote, Liam Young

Speculative architect Liam Young will present a storytelling performance, “Planet City and the Return of Global Wilderness.” In “Planet City,” we go on a science fiction safari through an imaginary city for the entire population of the Earth, where 10 billion people surrender the rest of the world to a global scaled wilderness and the return of stolen lands. Nils Gilman, the Berggruen Institute’s VP of Programs, will discuss with him how we might retreat from our vast network of cities and entangled supply chains into one hyper-dense, planet-wide metropolis. See a preview here.

2:00 pm: Public Forum: What Will Life Become?

The Forum will tackle the question of the Workshop — what will life become? — by exploring the futures of life, mind, and outer space. How will biotechnologies, thinking machines, and projects that plan for life beyond Earth inflect the future of humans and human futures? The Forum features the following scholars:

3:30-5:00 pm: Reception

Liam Young

Director, production designer, architect

Liam Young is a speculative architect and director who operates in the spaces between design, fiction, and futures. He is co-founder of Tomorrows Thoughts Today, an urban futures think tank, exploring the local and global implications of new technologies, and Unknown Fields, a nomadic research studio that travels on expeditions to chronicle these emerging conditions as they occur on the ground.

K Allado-McDowell

Founder of Artists + Machine Intelligence at Google AI

K Allado-McDowell is a writer, speaker, and musician. They are the author, with GPT-3, of the books Pharmako-AI and Amor Cringe, and are co-editor of The Atlas of Anomalous AI. They record and release music under the name Qenric. Allado-McDowell established the Artists + Machine Intelligence program at Google AI.  They are a conference speaker, educator and consultant to think-tanks and institutions seeking to align their work with deeper traditions of human understanding.


Professor of Feminist Studies / Director of Critical Race and Ethnic Studies, UC Santa Cruz

Neda Atanasoski is Professor Feminist Studies and Director of Critical Race and Ethnic Studies at UC Santa Cruz. She is the author of Humanitarian Violence: The U.S. Deployment of Diversity and Surrogate Humanity: Race, Robots, and the Politics of Technological Futures (co-authored with Kalindi Vora). Atanasoski has published articles on gender and religion, nationalism and war, human rights and humanitarianism, and race and technology, which have appeared in American Quarterly, Cinema Journal, Catalyst, and The European Journal of Cultural Studies. She is co-editor of the journal Critical Ethnic Studies.

Lisa Ruth Rand

Assistant Professor of History, Caltech

Lisa Ruth Rand is a historian of technology, science, and the environment. Her research interests include space junk, public history, critical discard studies, and extraterrestrial futurism, from the technopolitics of planetary analog habitats to the colonizing role of Republican Motherhood in frontier narratives. Rand held positions at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the Consortium for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine, and the Science History Institute. In 2019 she received the University of Pennsylvania’s Emerging Scholars Global Policy Prize and in 2022 will hold a Guggenheim Fellowship at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.

Tiffany VOra

Vice Chair of Digital Biology and Medicine, Singularity University 

Dr. Tiffany Vora is an educator, writer, research scientist, and entrepreneur. She developed drug discovery technologies at Bristol-Myers Squibb prior to earning her PhD in Molecular Biology at Princeton. Her work involves genomics, systems biology, computational biology, and astrobiology. Dr. Vora designed and supported biology and health research in Mars simulations in extreme environments with the Mars Society, and she conducts similar work with Space Humanity Lab. She taught Bioengineering at Stanford and is currently Faculty and Vice Chair of Medicine and Digital Biology at Singularity University. Dr. Vora has founded organizations focused on science communication and global thought leadership

Claire Isabel Webb

Berggruen Fellow

Claire Isabel Webb (Ph.D. History, Anthropology, and Science, Technology, and Society, MIT) is a 2022 Berggruen Fellow. An internship at the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) Institute in 2008 sparked the topic of Webb’s dissertation: Technologies of Perception: Searches for Life Beyond Earth. Informed by her ongoing work with the SETI group Breakthrough Listen at U.C. Berkeley, Webb’s book project historically and ethnographically tracks how scientists have investigated extraterrestrial life forms—both microbes and beings—since the Space Age. She used feminist and decolonize frameworks of analysis to theorize historical and current scientific imaginations of alien life.

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.