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Carleton to hire new professor in humanities and technology

Carleton College is planning to hire a new professor who will specialize in teaching the digital humanities. The full title of the position, as advertised, is “Professor in Humanities and Technology.” The new professor will focus on issues in the intersection of the humanities and technology. This means looking into topics like social media, digital security and privacy, artificial intelligence, automated and digital labor and how “diverse histories, religions, and cultures might inform our understanding of innovative technologies,” according to the advertisement posted for the position.

This new position is part of an effort to expand the school’s ability to teach to a world where technology is ingrained in our daily lives. According to President Steven Poskanzer, “As these technologies become more ubiquitous and dominant, we shall need to draw on the insights of humanistic disciplines to understand, embrace, and value the kinds of thinking, learning, and actions that make us distinctly human.”

A committee, led by Philosophy Chair Daniel Groll, has been created to lead the effort in filling this new position. Members of the committee include Professor of Religion Lori Pearson, Professor of History Susannah Ottaway, Chair of Cinema and Media Studies Jay Beck, and Chair of Computer Science David Liben-Nowell.

This multidisciplinary committee highlights the extent to which this new hire, and the subject itself, will also be multidisciplinary. While the committee has narrowed the search down to four candidates, all of whom are philosophers by training, applications came in from a wide variety of specialties, including History, English, and American Studies.

Despite the clear technological component, the search was intentionally for a faculty member outside of computer science. This highlights the humanistic component of the new position. While this new area is centered around technology, the focus will be on how technology interacts with all aspects of our lives. The new faculty member, however, is expected to have knowledge of STEM fields, computer science, and the social sciences. According to the advertisement for the position, the new faculty member will be responsible for designing five of their own courses.

The four candidates will be giving hour-long mock classes at 5:00 p.m. on February 12, 19, 21 and 26 in Leighton 426. Students are encouraged to attend. As for what students can expect to see at these mock classes, according to Daniel Groll, the candidates will explore issues at the intersection of humanistic inquiry and technological innovation.

“They do research and teach on topics like the promise and peril of using virtual reality, embodied and extended cognition, the ethics of creating artificial intelligence, whether robots could ever have the same moral status as people, the ethics of letting computers ‘make’ decisions using algorithms, the effects of social media on democratic deliberation, and a host of other issues,” said Groll.

Additionally, Groll hopes that the new hire will encourage new conversations on campus about the humanistic dimensions of new and emerging technologies.

According to Liben-Newell, this represents a step forward in the way that the computer science department will attempt to tackle these difficult issues.

“So far, in our department we’ve tried to address these topics through fairly small components in many different courses, but there is so much more we could do, both inside and outside of the CS department,” said Liben-Newell.

Liben-Newell is also excited at the prospect of working closely with a new colleague in the humanities department.
For Lori Pearson, much of the excitement about this new hire comes from the prospect of expanding multidisciplinary collaboration on campus.

“One of the most exciting convictions that informs this new position is that we cannot address problems alone, but need the insights of various fields to grapple with these questions,” she said.

“I am excited about the rich insights that can be gained when we work together across disciplines to address complicated questions in our world today; we need all the fields of a liberal arts education to do that well,” said Pearson.

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