Alumni Program

The Opportunities and Risks of Artificial Intelligence (AI)

Alumni of TU Berlin and other Berlin universities and research institutions took part in the symposium "Critical Stances towards AI: For a Critical and Self-Determined Approach to Digital Technology" in New York City.

A centennial, a transatlantic scholarly exchange, and a cross-university alumni gathering all rolled into one at a symposium held in New York City on 28-29 September 2023.

100 years of Josef Weizenbaum

This year marked the 100th anniversary of the birth of Joseph Weizenbaum, after whom the Weizenbaum Institute for the Networked Society is named. Born in Berlin in 1923, he fled to the USA in 1935 to escape the Nazis because he was Jewish. There, he researched and taught as a pioneer of computer technology for a number of decades at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Following the reaction to his development of the first chatbot “ELIZA,” he became an outspoken critic of computer science and took a strong stance on a number of issues. He criticized not only the military use of computers, but also the pursuit of wealth and power. Above all, he emphasized the fundamental difference between humans and computers and warned of the dangers of unthinking faith in technology.

Transatlantic knowledge exchange

To mark the centenary of Weizenbaum’s birth, the alumni programs at Technische Universität Berlin and Freie Universität Berlin together with the Weizenbaum Institute for the Networked Society organized the symposium "Critical Stances towards AI: For a Critical and Self-Determined Approach to Digital Technology." Researchers from the Weizenbaum Institute traveled to the USA - Joseph Weizenbaum’s adopted country - to meet with fellow researchers from North America to discuss the topics passionately addressed by Weizenbaum and thus promote transatlantic discourse about Joseph Weizenbaum and his influential work. At the heart of the discussions were questions dealing with the responsibility humans have regarding the development of artificial intelligence, particularly concerning disinformation and the social and also economic use of AI as well as regulating platforms, algorithms and global tech businesses – all questions intensively addressed by Weizenbaum and which could hardly be more relevant today.

Alumni from a number of universities also present

Invitations were also sent to alumni residing in the USA of universities and non-university research institutions involved in the Weizenbaum Institute for the Networked Society: Freie Universität Berlin (FU Berlin), Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin (HU Berlin), Technische Universität Berlin (TU Berlin), Berlin university of the Arts (UdK), Potsdam University (UP), as well as the Fraunhofer Institute for Open Communication Systems (FOKUS) and the WZB Berlin Social Science Center.

From those invited, some 30 alumni, mainly from Freie Universität Berlin and Technische Universität Berlin, attended the event and took part in discussions with researchers over the two days of the event. The location of the symposium could hardly have been more fitting - the Deutsches Haus of New York University. The event was supported by the German Center for Research and Innovation (DWIH) New York.

Alumni testimonials

TU-Alumnus Cy Yavuzturk und FU-Alumna Jenifer Cushman gehörten zu den Teilnehmer*innen des Symposiums. Beide haben wir gefragt: „Vor dem Hintergrund der schnellen Entwicklung im Bereich der KI ist es wichtig - im Sinne von Joseph Weizenbaum –, sich kritisch mit der Technik auseinanderzusetzen. Wo sehen Sie in Ihrem Arbeitskontext die großen Herausforderungen bezüglich KI für die Zukunft? Und welche Impulse hat Ihnen das Symposium gegeben?“

"The symposium allowed me to expand my horizon in regards to my understanding of artificial intelligence and provided me with new perspectives in my own profession. The rapid advancement of automation in the 20th century, specifically in engineering, significantly increased the efficiency in the production and delivery of goods and services. The 21st century with the further advent of computing technologies introduced to the profession of engineering algorithmic tools based on artificial intelligence, allowing the efficiency improvements to reach a much higher level. Nevertheless, engineering design involves much more than finding purely technical solutions as there are ethical, societal, and environmental dimensions as well."

Prof. Dr. Cy Yavuzturk, University of Hartford, TU alumnus Energy and Process Engineering

"With a decades-long history of providing educational access through distance courses, the University of Maine at Augusta embraces twenty-first-century instructional modes.  At the same time, we are challenged to consider all implications of the technologies we employ and teach in this ever more quickly evolving landscape.  With its fascinating overview of Weizenbaum's life and philosophy, coupled with its thought-provoking sessions, the AI Symposium has helped me take a step back and consider some of the deeper ethical questions surrounding our employment of digital tools."

 

Dr. Jenifer Cushman, President University of Maine at Augusta, alumna of Freie Universität in German Studies

Behind the Scenes of AI

At the Weizenbaum Institute for the Networked Society, TU alumna Dr. Milagros Miceli examines the precarious work conditions of the clickworkers who train AI.She provided an insight into her work at the symposium “Critical Stances towards AI: For a Critical and Self-Determined Approach to Digital Technology.” In an interview Dr. Miceli discusses the role of human labor in the AI sector as well as the research conducted on this topic.

Read the interview

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