The Future is Now
What is the future of the planet and the humans on that planet, and what role will technology play in creating that future? In this course, we will focus on a few key technologies that are rapidly changing our world. What is the future of parenthood in a world where technologies such as IVF and genetic engineering are becoming increasingly accessible to the masses? Will it be a future of genetically perfected children? What about other kinds of modification to human beings, digital and otherwise? What is the future of genetically engineered food? How are new communication tools changing our patterns of communication and ourselves? Is ‘24/7' technology threatening our privacy?
We will ask, more broadly, how and why are these technologies chosen by societies? Do we act — indeed, can we act — as individuals to control our destinies when technological change seems to threaten other human values, or do we need a collective solution? In other words, in a modern technological world, how much can we control our fates, either as individuals or as a society?
Technology Equals Progress?
Technology is often, unquestioningly, perceived as a measure of the advancement of a society. The advantages that it provides, from the eradication of diseases to the capabilities of mobile communication, cause us to embrace technology. It is seen as a powerful tool for solving problems and alleviating the chores of regular routines. But does technological advancement ensure universal benefits? Every new development is a consequence of choices made by the members of a society.
The goal of this course is to explore the inextricable connection between new technologies and the underlying values of the society developing them. We will examine current and historical examples to better appreciate the role of each.
Don't Fear the Reaper: Living with Dying in America
Americans love to play video games, read books and view movies that involve someone's death. We are not so fond of talking about death as it relates to each one of us. In this course, we will dare to talk about death. Together, we will explore the reasons why we use euphemisms for it, study the methods by which the funeral industry attempts to sell it, reflect on the practices the major religious traditions use to interpret it, and examine the lengths to which the medical profession will go to forestall it. On the journey, we will discover humor, experience pathos and, hopefully, make peace with the whole reality of living with death in America.
There are many "Grand Challenges" currently facing the peoples of the world, including for example, universal access to clean water, securing cyberspace, making solar energy economical, and engineering better medicines. How can these challenges be addressed and solved in ways that truly benefit all of humanity? What roles do the natural sciences, the social sciences, and engineering play in their solution?
This foundation seminar seeks to bring together students interested in various fields of study to contextualize the science and engineering principles underlying worldwide technical challenges as well as the central roles that economics, anthropology, and public policy play in solving them. We will together develop a better understanding of the challenges facing the world and how each of us can contribute, even in a small way, to their solution.