History & Theory

AI & the Humanities: AI is Weird

History & Theory
01 Apr, 2024

AI & the Humanities: AI is Weird

with Erik Davis
Writer, Journalist, and Lecturer

The AI & the Humanities series is a collaboration between the Townsend Center and the Berkeley Center for New Media.

The contemporary humanities is largely concerned with the social and political function of texts and images, often at the expense of the meta-discipline’s long engagement with the uncanny, the visionary, the paradoxical, the otherworldly, and the abject. But it may be these latter concerns that become most salient in the humanistic encounter with contemporary AI and its exploding impact on culture and consciousness. Drawing from ideas developed in his book High Weirdness (MIT Press, 2019) and his Burning Shore Substack, Davis will explore how the concept of the weird helps illuminate the speculative and reality-bending properties of AI discourse and practice, as algorithms, machine learning, and massive data sets open up an ontologically unstable space of mythology, weird fiction, and dreamlike encounters with the simulacrum.

About Erik Davis

Erik Davis is an author, award-winning journalist, and teacher based in San Francisco. His wide-ranging work focuses on the intersection of alternative religion, media, and the popular imagination. He is the author, most recently, of High Weirdness: Drugs, Esoterica, and Visionary Experience in the Seventies, co-published by MIT Press and Strange Attractor. He also wrote Nomad Codes: Adventures in Modern Esoterica (2010), The Visionary State: A Journey through California’s Spiritual Landscape (2006), a critical volume on Led Zeppelin (2005), and the celebrated cult classic TechGnosis: Myth, Magic, and Mysticism in the Age of Information (1998). Erik’s scholarly and popular essays on music, technoculture, drugs, and spirituality have appeared in scores of books, magazines, and journals, and his writing has been translated into a dozen languages. For a decade, he explored the “cultures of consciousness” on his groundbreaking weekly podcast Expanding Mind. Davis has spoken widely at universities, conferences, retreat centers, and festivals, and has been interviewed by CNN, the BBC, NPR, and the New York Times. He graduated from Yale University in 1988, and more recently earned his PhD in religious studies at Rice University. His book on the history of LSD blotter art will be published in 2024.

More Info

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