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Technologies, scientific transformations, and new areas of knowledge are continuously, and rapidly, being introduced. These developments are transforming social systems around the world. We have seen networked computers rapidly converging with telephones and TV into globally pervasive digital communications systems. These systems—and the emerging New Media they create—are increasingly impacting what and how we communicate with each other, as well as how we write history and interact among ourselves. The opportunities and threats these and other systems pose to personal and global quality of life, end even to human survival, are very real and relatively little understood. This seminar will consider these aspects, as well as alternative social systems that may lead to a better future for humankind. This seminar was formerly called Computers, Man, and Society.

Jerry Spivack

Dr. Takeshi Utsumi

Charlotte Wilhelm

Meeting dates and locations are subject to change. Please confirm details with the seminar rapporteur.

Meeting Schedule

10/02/2019 Faculty House, Columbia University
7:00 PM
What is Time?
Reuven Opher, Technion – Israel Institute of Technology (Israel) and University of São Paulo (Brazil)


Time is one of the major dimensions of our lives. This talk will elucidate the nature of time, as scientists, such as Einstein, and others, have transformed our understanding of this concept.

11/13/2019 Faculty House, Columbia University
7:00 PM
Comedy and Society
Paul Herzich, Sy Beagle Learning Center of the United Federation of Teachers


Comedy and Society are lovers with their limbs wrapped around themselves. They’ve wrestled with each other for more than a century. Currently, however, largely because of the rise of Political Correctness, they are not equal. “Society” wields much more power than ”Comedy” , and consequently has the ability to bend Comedy to it's will.
This Seminar will discuss in detail this strained relationship and it’s importance in how we experience life.
There will also be discussion about the “anti-social” nature of most comedy, and how it relates to social approval.

12/11/2019 Faculty House, Columbia University
7:00 PM
What Society Must Require from AI
Ron Baecker, University of Toronto (Canada) and Columbia University


Artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms, especially machine learning (ML) programs, are now being employed or proposed for use in:
a) scanning résumés to weed out job applicants;
b) evaluating risks children face in their families;
c) informing judicial decisions about bail, sentencing, and parole;
d) diagnosing medical conditions, and not just classifying medical images;
e) identifying faces in the crowd for the police;
f) caring for seniors;
g) driving autonomous vehicles; and
h) guiding and directing drones in seeking to kill terrorists.

I will propose what society must require of algorithms that affect human welfare, health, life, and death. I shall discuss concepts including reliability, openness, transparency, explainability, trustworthiness, responsibility, accountability, empathy, compassion, fairness, and justice.

I shall illustrate these concepts by discussing likely applications of AI to educational technology.

My analysis could aid researchers in prioritizing problems for AI and HCI (human-computer interaction) research. It could also assist policy makers and citizens in determining when and how AI technology should be deployed.

02/12/2020 Faculty House, Columbia University
7:00 PM
The Making of Manhattan-the First 300 years
Richard Resnik, Institute of Retired Professionals


In 1608, when Henry Hudson got lost, discovered “Manahatta" and sailed up the river that bears his name, this island was a hilly, stream filled, verdant island. In a mere 300 years (and a mere 120 years after the end of the Revolutionary war) we had our first subway system. How did this happen and who or what was responsible for this spectacular transformation of Manhattan?. This seminar attempts to explore and answer these questions. You will meet the virtually unknown heroes who made this possible and delve into the remarkable events that created an island that can only be described as an “energy force”

03/18/2020 Faculty House, Columbia University
7:00 PM
meeting cancelled

05/13/2020 Faculty House, Columbia University
7:00 PM
meeting cancelled