Early Modern Artificial Intelligence

William Egginton (Johns Hopkins) in conversation with Kevin Jon Heller and Katrine Helene Andersen.

As the world grapples with the promises and threats of AI, at the extreme ends of both wish-fulfilment and nightmare stands a common premise: the machine that not only follows instructions, but also chooses, invents, designs, and controls. For some commentators, of course, we have already crossed that threshold. For others, we never will. What do we mean when we talk about (artificial) human intelligence? Early modern Europe (with protagonists such as Llull, Cervantes, Descartes, Leibniz, and even Kant) provides us with a key moment in a story that will help us to unearth some of the basic problems and unspoken assumptions of today’s AI catastrophists and apologists alike.

Christian Benne chairs the event.

William Egginton is the Decker Professor in the Humanities, chair of the Department of Modern Languages and Literatures, and Director of the Alexander Grass Humanities Institute at Johns Hopkins University. His most recent books are The Rigor of Angels: Borges, Heisenberg, Kant (2023), named in several best of 2023 lists, including The New York Times and The New Yorker; and Alejandro Jodorowsky: Filmmaker and Philosopher (2023).

Kevin Jon Heller is Professor of International Law and Security at UCPH’s Centre for Military Studies.

Katrine Helene Andersen is associate professor at UCPH’s Department of English, Germanic and Romance Studies.