Photography, cinema, gramophones, typewriters, televisions, computers, and smartphones: These are among the recent history of devices that have shifted the needle in terms of the way people communicate with one another, the way they can understand the world and the way culture is both produced and preserved. This is a history of inventions that have enhanced the capacity for the preservation of memory, the transmission of knowledge and the creation of art, not to mention bringing into focus the questions of mechanical and digital reproduction, originality and intellectual property. It would seem that to understand what it meant to be human in the last century, one needed to understand these technologies, how they work and how they ‘work on us’.
The continuous growth of digital technologies are adding more items to this list. For example, since the recent explosion of AI applications, traditional ideas about what counts as creativity, what counts as intelligence, and what is valued in terms of cultural knowledge, have come in for scrutiny in new and increasingly cross-disciplinary ways. Ideas of responsibility and trust – notions that are at the core of how one might live ethically – likewise need to be reformulated, as do our conceptions of pedagogy, and the knowledge that is valued in an age of AI. On the other hand, developments on virtual, augmented, and extended reality are questioning our understanding and interpretation of real and imagined worlds and how humans interact in them. In short, current developments in technology tend to ask more questions about the supposed limits of the human, and our general set of humanist values, rather than providing answers. This new research theme has been set up to probe these questions, exploring the impact of new and emerging digital technology through workshops and public lectures.
This theme unapologetically asks some of the ‘big’ questions concerning technology and what humanism might mean over the next century. For example, ‘How does AI prompt philosophers to think differently about what were previously considered the reserve of ‘the human’?’ ‘How do museums, libraries and archives deal with the possibilities that emerging technologies have for the preservation and loss of forms of cultural memory?’ And ‘How do educational institutions rethink what counts as knowledge, how do they address the manner in which digital tools affect its creation, repurposing, distribution, and use?’ And finally, ‘What implication might all this have for the policy and regulation that often accompanies, supports, determines, or limits these once human characteristics?’ The theme brings together philosophers, creative and cultural heritage practitioners, and other critical thinkers of culture with the law and policy experts in CREATe to discuss both the way emerging technologies prompt a revision of previously held humanist values and the policy and regulation implications of these cultural shifts.
The theme is led by Professor Timothy Barker and Professor Maria Economou, both working at the cutting-edge of technology and interdisciplinary thought. Tim has a particular interest in the epistemological impact of technologies, and writes primarily on the philosophy of technology, video games and digital media histories. Maria works on digital cultural heritage, examining the impact of digital technologies (from online catalogues to storytelling and virtual reality) both on how collections are documented and organised but also on interpretation and audience engagement.