Seth Farbman Launches Presidential Lecture Series

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On Wednesday, December 1, 2021, AUP’s 60th-anniversary Presidential Lecture Series, titled Technology and the Human Future, hosted its inaugural event: a guest lecture from Seth Farbman, the former CMO of Spotify and currently an Executive Fellow at the Yale University School of Management. The Presidential Lecture Series, organized by the office of AUP President Celeste M. Schenck, invites speakers to participate in live online events, so they might engage with both theory and practice in responding to the question of how technology will continue affecting our lives beyond the Covid-19 pandemic.

The inaugural lecture began with remarks from President Schenck, who touched on the increasing importance of digital technologies in our daily lives and on how universities have a role to play in the development and regulation of such technologies. She noted that the theme of the Presidential Lecture Series had been selected to coincide with the University’s recently launched MSc in Human Rights and Date Science. Students in the program’s inaugural class attended the event.

The speaker, Seth Farbman, then began his presentation with an overarching question: How does technology influence and affect the human condition, and how will this change in the future? Throughout his lecture, Farbman returned to this question to offer clues as to potential responses. Farbman explained his definition of the current human condition, which made frequent reference to the internet. He noted that an entire generation of human beings has never known a time before the internet existed, and he invited audience members to examine the consequences of such persistent connectivity. An enormous amount of data is now being generated worldwide: every second the average person generates 1.7mb of data.

Farbman went on to explain that a huge amount of data is no longer generated by humans; it instead originates in devices connected to the internet, more commonly referred to as the Internet of Things (IoT). He complemented this discussion by screening a short film made by Joy Buolamwini in collaboration with MIT Media Labs, which explored the current limitations of artificial intelligence and the inadvertent racial discrimination that is often incorporated into AI projects.

The final section of Farbman’s presentation discussed his experiences at Spotify, touching on both business development and how Spotify uses its data. In concluding, he left the audience pondering the idea that we may have not figured out the full extent to which we can make use of digital technologies. Currently, much of the internet is used to make cat memes – but the possibilities of what might be achieved are endless.

You can watch Seth Farbman’s presentation in full below.

The next event in the Presidential Lecture Series will take place on January 18, 2022, during which Professor Bipin Indurkhya of the Cognitive Science Department of Jagiellonian University, Krakow, Poland, will speak on the topic: "Faking Emotions and a Therapeutic Role for Robots and Chatbots: Ethics of Using AI in Psychotherapy." You can register for the event online here

Significant contributions to this news piece were made by Jackson Vann, a graduate student studying for AUP’s MSc in Human Rights and Data Science.