Spring 2019 Symposia

Thank you to our guest speakers, attendees, and sponsors for a successful and intellectually stimulating two-day conference exploring the social implications of living, working, and learning with ubiquitous technology.


Artificial intelligence is increasingly prevalent in our work, social, and civic lives. From voice-enabled personal assistants such as Amazon’s Alexa and Apple’s Siri to autonomous vehicles and robotic elder care, AI permeates contemporary life; it is critical that researchers explore what it means to be human in a world of AI. To that end, Boston University presents two international symposium, inviting scholars, policy-makers, and analysts to collaboratively investigate artificial intelligence in relationship to society, specifically exploring issues such as labor, ethics, emotions, and identity. These events are particularly timely as 2019 marks twenty years since the mobile turn, when we began the move away from the telephone toward a culture of perpetual contact via portable electronic devices. Through the April workshops, we aim to explore the future of technology and humanity, with a lens toward our past. Learn more about April 10th: Human Community and Perpetual Contact and April 11: Should Robots Be Our Friends?

Human Community & Perpetual ContactDate: April 10, 2019
Location: Boston University Hillel Center, 213 Bay State Rd., Boston, MA 02215
Should Robots Be Our Friends?Date: April 11, 2019
Location: Boston University Photonics Center, 8 St. Mary’s St., Boston, MA 02215

April 11th: Should Robots Be Our Friends? Ethical and social scientific implications of the growing emotional engagement of humans with AI agents and robots

Robots and other artificial intelligence (AI) entities have long tempted people to treat them as if they were alive, human-like, or even had souls (Katz, 2003). This topic is now front and center as people increasingly welcome AI and robots into their lives as conversational partners, servants, and companions. More, the concept of artificial intelligence has served as a catalyst for artists, philosophers, mathematicians, and psychologists to examine the defining characteristics of consciousness and what it means to be human, such as Hobbes (1651), Turing (1950), and Searle (1980).

Today, much of what was initially conceptualized as fiction has materialized as a technological reality. As artificial technologies become more increasingly prevalent in contemporary life, it is necessary for researchers to examine the potential implications with regard to ethics (Anderson & Anderson, 2012; Lin, Abney, & Bekey, 2014; Taddeo & Floridi, 2018), identity and social relationships (Breazeal, 1999, 2003, 2004; Turkle, 1995) sex and love (Levy, 2007; Sullins, 2012), education and development (Resnick, 1998; Kahn et al. 2012) and labor and economy (Boyd & Holton, 2017; Crawford & Joler, 2018).

In order to more fully understand the complexities of AI and its social consequences, the Division of Emerging Media Studies at Boston University presents an international symposium, where scholars from a variety of fields will discuss the promises and perils. An interdisciplinary, cross-cutting approach will help to facilitate an in-depth examination of the topic through paper presentations, panel discussions, and a poster session. The symposium will encourage the audience to participate actively with questions and debate. We will also try to showcase some of the latest technology.

The goal of the event is for participants to not only develop an enhanced understanding of the competing issues at play but also identify actionable next steps within their fields of study. Finally, the social psychological and ethical dimensions will be delineated in pursuit of a greater understanding of the nettlesome issues that we as a society will be facing.


  • Anderson, M. & Anderson, S. L. (Eds.). (2011). Machine ethics. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
  • Boyd, R., & Holton, R. J. (2017). Technology, innovation, employment and power: Does robotics and artificial intelligence really mean social transformation? Journal of Sociology, 54(3), 331-345.
  • Breazeal, C. (2003). Emotion and sociable humanoid robots. International Journal of Human-Computer Studies, 59(1-2), 119-155.
  • Breazeal, C. L. (2004). Designing sociable robots. Cambridge, MA: The MIT press.
  • Breazeal, C. (1999). Robot in society: Friend or appliance. In Proceedings of the 1999 Autonomous Agents Workshop on Emotion-Based Agent Architectures (pp. 18-26).
  • Crawford, K. & Joler, V. (2018 September 17). Anatomy of an AI system: The Amazon Echo as an anatomical map of human labor, data and planetary resources. AI Now Institute and Share Lab. Retrieved from: https://anatomyof.ai
  • Hobbes, T. and Gaskin, J. (1998). Leviathan. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
  • Kahn Jr, P. H., Kanda, T., Ishiguro, H., Freier, N. G., Severson, R. L., Gill, B. T., … & Shen, S. (2012). “Robovie, you’ll have to go into the closet now”: Children’s social and moral relationships with a humanoid robot. Developmental Psychology, 48(2), 303-314.
  • Katz, James E. (Ed.), (2003). Machines that become us: The social context of personal communication technology. Piscataway, NJ: Transaction Publishers.
  • Lin, P., Abney, K., & Bekey, G. A. (2014). Robot ethics: the ethical and social implications of robotics. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.
  • Resnick, M. (1998). Technologies for lifelong kindergarten. Educational Technology Research and Development, 46(4), 43-55.
  • Searle, J. R. (1980). Minds, brains, and programs. Behavioral and Brain Sciences,3(3), 417-424.
  • Sullins, J. P. (2012). Robots, love and sex: the ethics of building a love machine. IEEE Transactions on Affective Computing, 3(4), 398-409.
  • Taddeo, M., & Floridi, L. (2018). How AI can be a force for good. Science, 361(6404), 751-752.
  • Turing, A. (1950). Computing machinery and intelligence. Mind, 59(236),.433-460.
  • Turkle, S. (1995). Life on the screen. Identity in the age of the internet. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster.

April 10th: Human Community and Perpetual Contact in an Era of Artificial Intelligence

This Invitational Expert Panel on April 10th investigates the future of perpetual contact from a humanities, philosophical and social scientific perspective. Questions include: How does the increased prevalence of algorithmically-informed communication technologies influence us as humans? How do we share and receive information in the smart home? What are the implications for social and domestic relationships? What role should philosophy and other humanistic disciplines play in understanding these phenomena? Expert scholars will contribute to a lively discussion, interrogating implications of our current algorithmic culture.

International Scientific Advisory Board*

  • Arruda Filho, Emilio (University of Amazon)
  • Betke, Margrit (Boston University)
  • Bucy, Erik (Texas Tech University)
  • de Souza e Silva, Adriana (North Carolina State University)
  • Floyd, Juliet (Boston University)
  • Liu, Yu-li (National Chengchi University)
  • Neff, Gina (Oxford University)
  • Redman, Philip (Accenture)
  • Serrano Tellería, Ana (Universidad de Castilla-La Mancha)
  • Soysal, Zeynep (University of Rochester)
  • Takahashi, Toshie (Waseda University, Tokyo)
  • Tian, Li (Peking University)
  • Wild, Claude (Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe)
  • Xie, Xinzhou (Peking University)
*Institutional affiliation presented for identification purposes only and does not imply endorsement

Joint Sponsors

Sponsored by: The Feld Family Professorship of Boston University’s College of Communication

Co-Sponsored by:

  • Division of Emerging Media Studies, Boston University
  • The Consulate General of France in Boston
  • Artificial Intelligence Research (AIR) of Boston University
  • The Mellon Foundation Sawyer Seminar

We gratefully acknowledge our sponsors.


The Division of Emerging Media Studies within the College of Communication at Boston University brings together voices of scholars, researchers, practitioners, and policymakers through interdisciplinary symposia. Through lectures, conferences, and workshops, EMS aims to stimulate thought-provoking discussion and debate on issues related to technology and society. By drawing on empirically informed insights in the realm of communication and social media, problems confronting our society can be more effectively addressed. These technologies offer increased freedom and opportunities but also pose an unprecedented threat to human liberty and autonomy, so a well-informed public is more vital than ever.

Please contact Katie Schiepers at kschiep@bu.edu with any questions.

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