GHI Spring Lecture Series 2020

“The spirits that I called”: Artificial Life from the Enlightenment to the Present

Organized by Anna-Carolin Augustin and Claudia Roesch

Will technological advancements enrich our lives or ultimately destroy us? Current debates about the consequences of artificial creations – robots, artificial intelligence, designer babies – raise both hopes and deep concerns. Promises of a better future or eternal life stand in contrast to fears of being overpowered by more intelligent, more resilient artificially created beings.

"The spirits that I called," lamented the sorcerer's apprentice in Goethe's famous ballad, after bringing a broom to life with magic and losing control of it. For centuries, the idea of creating artificial life has fascinated and frightened human beings. It touches upon fundamental questions of human existence, the relationship between humans and nature, and the beginning of life. Fictional characters and stories such as the Golem, and Frankenstein’s monster reflect the long history of engagement with the idea of artificial life.  So, too, do attempts over the past three centuries to build androids and robots, to mimic human thought in computer software, and to engineer ever more sophisticated reproductive technologies. The question today, as in the past, is whether artificially created beings and new technologies will ultimately turn against their creator.

The spring lecture series 2020 “The spirits that I called”: Artificial Life from the the Enlightenment to the Present combines approaches from the history of science and technology studies with religion, gender and film studies to discuss the history of the idea of artificial life/creation, and how it has framed both hopes and concerns associated with new developments and technologies.

All lectures take place on Thursdays and begin at 6:30 pm (refreshments will be served from 6:00 to 6:30 pm). They will be held at the German Historical Institute, 1607 New Hampshire Avenue NW, Washington D.C. Please RSVP by Tel. 202.387.3355, E-mail, or at the links below. 

  • Human-Machine Boundaries in the Enlightenment and Beyond
    February 27, 2020 - Register
    Speaker: Adelheid Voskuhl (University of Pennsylvania)
  • The Golem: The Artificial Anthropoid from Enlightenment Monster to AI
    April 16, 2020 - Register
    Speaker: Cathy Gelbin (University of Manchester)
  • Transmission of Intelligence and Information. A History of Artificial Intelligence  
    May 7, 2020 - Register
    Speaker: Rudolf Seising (Deutsches Museum)