New Agents and Agencies: Science, Technology, and Subjectivity

The Van Leer Jerusalem Institute Summer School

8-13 July 2018

New Agents and Agencies: Science, Technology, and Subjectivity

With the rise of new technology-centered environments, such as social media, virtual worlds, online marketing, gaming, smart homes, and surveillance cities, we face the growing presence of non-human agents and new forms of human agencies. The Van Leer Jerusalem Summer School will provide the setting for advancing our understanding of these new agents and agencies and their ethical, social, political, historical, and philosophical significance. Specifically, we are interested in exploring the interaction between (a) “non-human agents”, such as robots, AI machines, games, computational algorithms, autonomous cars, and drones, and (b) new forms of technologically-mediated human agencies, such as online interactions, new social media, gaming, cyborgs, and avatars. The Summer School will be devoted to examining specific forms of new agents and agencies, to studying their differences and similarities, and will address the underlying question as to whether these new phenomena, taken together, entail a transformation in the human condition, and if so, what are the social, political, and ethical implications of this change.

In existing scholarship, the two questions of non-human agents and new forms of human agencies are usually discussed separately. Indeed, there may seem to be very little in common between asking, for example, whether robots have agency and asking what kind of new agency is entailed in political activism in social media. The interrelationship between these questions becomes clear, however, once we begin to think of the interaction between non-human agents and human agents. How does human interaction with drones raise questions not only about drones but also about humans? How does the use of technologically mediated human interaction affect our understanding of not only human agency but also the role of the technological interface in these interactions?

Participants in the workshop are invited to offer their reflections on these observations as well as on the following questions:

  • When and how is agency ascribed to non-human technologies? Should non-human things, such as robots, autonomous cars, and drones, be viewed as agents? How important are autonomy, self-consciousness, judgment, knowledge, and passions for agency? Should we be thinking of different kinds of agencies rather than of one concept?

  • How have new technologically-mediated human interactions transformed human agency and our understanding of agency in politics, daily-interactions, and art? What role have anonymity, multiple-identities, disembodiment, and distant-action played in this change?

  • Has the proliferation of non-human agents in our social daily-life altered our understanding of human agency and of social interactions? What moral, legal, and political consequences do these interactions have?

  • How new are these phenomena? What are historical precedents of human-machine interaction that may help us understand our current predicament?

  • Does the interaction between human and non-human agents require us to rethink ethical, moral, and political questions? How different are these interactions from other interactions with non-human beings, such as animals?

The five-day Summer School is open to post-doctoral and advanced PhD students of all disciplines, mainly in the humanities and social sciences, including, philosophy, history, new media, computer science, psychology, law, sociology, and political theory, anthropology, biology and medical humanities.