A Week Four Message from Chautauqua’s President


Welcome to Week Four of CHQ Assembly! I so thoroughly enjoyed our Week Three conversations about “Art and Democracy,” and my only consolation that they have concluded is the exciting lineup we have in store for you as we probe “The Ethics of Tech: Scientific, Corporate and Personal Responsibility,” a topic all the more relevant for the Chautauqua Lecture Series as our world has shifted ever more so online.  

Big Tech companies have begun to acknowledge their tremendous and sometimes harmful impact on society — particularly with regard to marginalized communities and civil liberties, and usually only following public calls for ethics reform and oversight. This week we explore: 

  • Is it enough for these giants to self-police, or is an industry-wide code of ethics or government regulation necessary to protect a future dominated by artificial intelligence, datafication and facial recognition? 
  • Does such oversight stifle innovation? How is the rest of the world responding? 
  • And, while it’s easy to see ourselves as victims, how do we take personal responsibility as consumers and users?  

In our companion Interfaith Lecture Series, we double down on our exploration of the ethical dimension, asking how ethical considerations translate in a technologically transforming world. Technology seems to be overtaking the world, from our obsession with electronic devices to the emerging artificial intelligence that helps us do everything from keep grocery lists to make war between nations. Outside of the practical applications, however, is there a question of right or wrong? What happens when technological capacity reaches a level that calls into question our very role as human beings in a society? In this week, we explore the ethical, spiritual and religious dimensions of “new tech.” Is it a step away from our own spiritual growth or can it be harnessed to create greater understanding? 

I’m deeply grateful to our friends David and Joan Lincoln, who championed the exploration of ethics as part of a Chautauqua program, and to their daughter, Katie, for carrying that torch today. We were saddened to lose Joan four years ago, and then David two years later, but honored that this week’s exploration carries on their legacy and, in particular, David’s deep commitment to the exploration of ethics in our world. 

Rabbi David Wolpe joins us this week, continuing our new practice of making sure we have at least one Jewish leader as a chaplain-in-residence each season. I know you’ll want to take in his prayerful reflections as part of our worship services each morning.

Lastly, our students started studying with us online this past week. What you cannot see is the hundreds of young people who continue to use Chautauqua as their summer home for education in the performing and visual arts. I’m so deeply grateful to our artistic directors and school leads for making sure the arc of this Chautauqua tradition continues. 

I hope you enjoy this week on “The Ethics of Tech,” and that the new CHQ Assembly remains a perfect platform to explore this vital topic as we head toward the midpoint of our season.

Tags : Art and DemocracyCommunityCorporate and Personal ResponsibilityFrom the Presidentmichael e. hillThe Ethics of Tech: ScientificWeek Three

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