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Literary Theory for Robots: How Computers Learned to Write

Evening Lecture/Seminar

Tuesday, June 4, 2024 - 6:45 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. ET
Code: 1K0475
This online program is presented on Zoom.
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In a provocative look at the shared pasts of literature and computer science, former Microsoft engineer Dennis Yi Tenen provides a context for recent developments in artificial intelligence, which holds important lessons for the future of humans living with smart technology.

Intelligence expressed through technology should not be mistaken for a magical genie capable of self-directed thought or action holds Yi Tenen. Rather, he asks us to look past the artifice—to better perceive the mechanics of collaborative work. Something as simple as a spell-checker or a grammar-correction tool, embedded in every word processor, represents the culmination of a shared human effort spanning centuries.

Smart tools like dictionaries and grammar books have always accompanied the act of writing, thinking, and communicating. That these paper machines are now automated does not bring them to life, nor can we cede agency over the creative process according to Yi Tenen. Blending history, technology, and philosophy, he discusses why he urges us to view AI as a matter of labor history, celebrating the long-standing cooperation between authors and engineers.

Yi Tenen is an associate professor of English and comparative literature at Columbia University and an affiliate at Columbia’s Data Science Institute.

His book, Literary Theory for Robots: How Computers Learned to Write (W. W. Norton & Company), is available for purchase.

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Inside Science