New podcast from Faith at the Frontiers, where I get to chat about all things Anthropoligy, Digital Religion, and AI with Emily and Barney 🙂
Today I start as the new Assistant Professor in Digital Religion(s) at the University of Zurich. I’m joining the UZH Faculty of Theology and working directly within the special research group or URPP on Digital Religion(s). Its almost a year to the day since I interviewed for this post, so its been a long time between fretting over what shoes to wear for my interview to fretting over what shoes to wear for my first day (answer, anything smart that I can still walk in with the ankle I sprained falling off my bike almost seven years ago!).
The move to Zurich has been both exciting and complicated. I’ve bitten my tongue alot around any pro-Brexit friends and family, but it would have been simpler (and less expensive) without that choice being made! But the new ‘Swiss Family Singler’ are all here, we have somewhere to live, and my son is back into the school routine (including moaning about homework again!). We’ve found a lovely if eccentric flat in Adliswil, about 20-30 mins by train from the famous Zurich Grossmünster, which my office is next to. Our flat dates back to the 1700s but has been recently renovated by the local architect who owns it, keeping many of its wooden beams and original features like doorways that my 6’2″ husband has to duck under 🙂 But we are all unpacked, and already well known at the bakery next door! We inflict our nascent German on them and they very occasionally give Henry free bread rolls, which hardly seems like a good deal for them!
This morning I walked from the Zurich HB to my office for my first day, passing cows on balconies…
… and I got straight into writing my first To Do list as a new Assistant Professor. There’s a bit on there about sorting out IT and email issues, but there’s also some really exciting projects that I’m still working on or about to launch: book projects like the Religion and AI book I’m witing and the Cambridge Companion on Religion and AI that I’m co-editing with Fraser Watts… notes for the course on Digital Religions I’ll be teaching at UZH from the Spring… travel plans for my speaking event at Princeton in November… notes for the presentation I’ll be making on AI and Religion at the URPP’s Digital Religion conference in just a few weeks… scribbled thoughts about a larger funded project on AI agency and Digital Religions… a reminder about writing a proposal for a pitch for a BBC radio documentary… there’s lots to do! I’m very excited about this new chapter in my career, and thrilled about finding a new home in Zurich where I’ll be surrounded by people enthusiastic about researching the digital world and modern technologies. And this view as I walk towards my office isn’t bad either!
I am thrilled to announce that I have been appointed the new Assistant Professor in Digital Religion(s) at the University of Zurich! I will be joining the Faculty of Theology in their URRP (University Research Priority Program) in Digital Religion(s) in October and I am very excited about working with the diverse array of research projects already in progress there. Along with continuing my anthropological research into religion and artificial intelligence, I will be also be teaching, supervising postgrads, and getting stuck into Faculty (and Swiss!) life. Apparently there’s a Lindt Chocolate Museum in Zurich…
Ich werde auch Deutsch lernen. Wünsch mir Glück!!
Rogue Computers! Space Tourists! Duct Tape! Puppets!
There was a lot going on for the crew and passengers of the Air Car in this massively fun one shot I was invited to join by the RPGeeks. We also had a great time discussing the science behind the scenes, as well as some of the speculations about the future of AI!
(the WiFi on my end wasn’t great, but I can only blame our Robot Overlords trying to stop us talking about them… Or whoever had knocked the signal booster off the wall in the office next door when they moved in that week!)
An absolute pleasure to chat with Marnie Chesterton and Philip Ball about the recent claims made by a Google Engineer about their Language Model for Dialogue Applications (LaMDA) and its sentience…
Here’s a fantastic new piece from James at The Verge, featuring a few quotes from this digital anthropologist I know…
A desire to project agency and intelligence onto inanimate matter, though, is deeply human, says Beth Singler, a digital anthropologist at the University of Cambridge. “You don’t have to go as far as Ameca has with facial features before people start bringing animated entities into what I call their cosmology of potential beings,” she tells The Verge. “There’s this sense that what is around us could be intelligence, and different cultures react to that in different ways.”
Traditions like Shinto and Buddhism are more open about this impulse to ascribe soul to objects, says Singler, but the same instincts run deep in the West. “We like to think we’re immune to this because we had the Enlightenment and became very serious and rational,” she says. “But I don’t see that. When I see people’s interactions with animated technological entities — and that can be everything from a robot to a Roomba — I see that same animistic tendency.” In other words: we still want to believe.
I’m so very grateful to Neil Lawrence, the Google DeepMind Professor in Machine Learning at the University of Cambridge, for a shout-out for my research in his recent Cambridge Festival talk on “Artificial Intelligence: Reclaiming Control”.