Artificial Intelligence or Artificial Consciousness?

SESSION 1: The Search to Expand Horizons of Awareness / Invention and Progress / Agency

  • Joseph FIns

    Medical Doctor and Medical Ethicist

    Dr. Joseph J. Fins '82, Hon. '22 is The E. William Davis, Jr. M.D. Professor of Medical Ethics, professor of medicine, chief of the Division of Medical Ethics at Weill Cornell Medical College, and co-director of the Consortium for the Advanced Study of Brain Injury (CASBI) at Weill Cornell Medicine and Rockefeller University. At Yale Law School, he is the Solomon Center Distinguished Scholar in Medicine, Bioethics and the Law and a visiting professor of law. During the 2023–2024 academic year he will be an Old Dominion Humanities Council Fellow at Princeton and a Koeppel Visiting Professor of Letters at Wesleyan. He is currently a co-investigator on an NIH BRAIN Initiative grant studying deep brain stimulation in severe to moderate traumatic brain injury and principal investigator of "Cognitive Restoration: Neuroethics and Disability Rights." Dr. Fins is an elected member of the National Academy of Medicine of the National Academies of Sciences, a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and by royal appointment an Academico de Honor of the Royal National Academy of Medicine of Spain. The author of Rights Come to Mind: Brain Injury, Ethics and the Struggle for Consciousness, Dr. Fins is currently working on a biography of the physician-humanist, Lewis Thomas. In 2022, he was awarded a Doctor of Humane Letters from Wesleyan.

  • Planetary Geologist – World’s Expert on Venus Geology

    Martha Gilmore is the Joshua Boger University Professor of the Sciences and Mathematics, dean of the natural sciences and mathematics, and professor of Earth and environmental sciences at Wesleyan University. She is a world expert on Venus geology and the oldest rock units on Venus located in tessera terrain. Her work on Mars includes development of autonomous strategies for the identification and return of geologically important VNIR spectra from rovers and orbit.  Much of the current Mars work in her lab includes VNIR spectroscopy of Mars analogue minerals including hydrous carbonates and Mars analogue brines. She has developed techniques to synthesize these minerals in a Mars chamber she and her students designed which allows collection of VNIR and Raman spectra under Mars conditions. On local field sites in Connecticut, she has collected VNIR data in the field over several growing seasons to develop techniques to identify P. australis (Common Reed), an invader in the local marshes, in remote sensing aerial and satellite data. Dr. Gilmore has served NASA as co-chair of the Committee on Astrobiology and Planetary Sciences, as a member of the Committee on Planetary and Lunar Exploration, the Planetary Science Decadal Survey, and as deputy chair of the Venus Exploration Analysis Group. She is a science team member on the DAVINCI and VERITAS missions to Venus.  In addition, she has been a co-investigator on other Discovery (RAVEN, VISAx) and New Frontiers (VOX, VICI) proposals, as well as other mission and instrument concept ideation and study through PICASSO, PSDS3, Venus Bridge, Venus Sample Return, and SBIR. She was the principal investigator of a Venus Flagship Mission Concept Study for the current Planetary Decadal Survey. She is an author on over 60 refereed papers and proceedings and has been awarded over $3.2 million in external funding.  She is a fellow of the Geological Society of America and was the 2020 recipient of the Geological Society of America Randolph W. “Bill” and Cecile T. Bromery Award for the Minorities and the 2022 Claudia J. Alexander Award of the American Astronomical Society Division of Planetary Sciences.

  • Philosopher of Mind and Cognitive Science

    Steven Horst, professor of philosophy at Wesleyan University, works in philosophy of mind and cognitive science. He has published books arguing that thought is more than computation (Symbols, Computation, and Intentionality, 1996, University of California Press), that conscious experience cannot be reduced to physical facts (Beyond Reduction, 2007, Oxford University Press), that laws of nature are compatible with free will (Laws, Mind, and Free Will, 2011, MIT Press), and for a pluralistic approach to human cognitive architecture (Cognitive Pluralism, 2016, MIT Press). His research has been supported by three grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities and one from the John Templeton Foundation. He has been a visiting scholar at Boston University’s Department of Cognitive and Neural Systems, Princeton’s Department of Philosophy, and Stanford’s Center for the Study of Language and Information, and a participant in NEH Summer Institutes on Mental Representation, Naturalism, Meaning, and the Relation of Intentionality and Consciousness. In addition to his academic career, Horst has also had a brief career as a software entrepreneur and was a pioneer in the use of the cello in Irish traditional music.

  • Inventor

    Charles R. Sperry is a third-generation entrepreneur, following a family tradition that dates to his grandfather’s founding of the Sperry Gyroscope Co. Sperry is a successful serial inventor who has envisioned and created products for a wide range of businesses and interests, including the health care, packaging, automotive, and military industries. During his career, which spans over 60 years, Sperry has obtained over 100 US patents. He co-founded Synectics in Cambridge, Massachusetts, under the auspices of Arthur D. Little and incorporated it in 1960. The Synectics process is a powerful means of developing group creativity and problem-solving in a rational way. In 1984, he formed The Sperry Group, Inc. that further evolved the process of Synectics in groundbreaking product development. He has worked with Sealed Air Corporation, 3D Systems, Eli Lily, Dey Laboratories, Datascope, Bristol Meyers, and many other Fortune 500 companies. He is the founder and inventor of Instapak®, a multi-billion-dollar technology that created foam-in-place protective packaging. Instapak® was acquired by Sealed Air Corporation in 1977. He consults for 3D Systems, Inc., developing novel 3D printing technologies that have advanced the accessibility and function of custom, solid object printing over the past 10 years.

SESSION 2: Authorship and Legacy / Bias and Discrimination in Design / Justice / Sustainability

  • Artist

    Amber Frid-Jimenez '97 is an artist exploring the cultural mechanics of the network through installations, prints, videos, and code. Her recent solo exhibition entitled V XXXX – something slips, passes, is transmitted, from stage to stage, curated by T’ai Smith, uses AI to mirror the visual culture of fashion. The show revolves around an artist’s book in the form of a magazine reinterpreting 70 years of Vogue through the lens of generative AI. In 2019, Frid-Jimenez published an artist’s book in the form of a first edition facsimile of Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, rewritten by an early version of GPT trained on Flaubert’s original novel. Frid-Jimenez has shown her work internationally in exhibitions at Casco Art Institute, Maison Européenne de la Photographie, Jan van Eyck, FACT Liverpool, and the Vancouver Art Gallery, where her work about AI in The Imitation Game: Visual Culture in the Age of Artificial Intelligence was acquired into the collection in 2022. Frid-Jimenez is associate professor and Canada Research Chair in Art and Design Technology at Emily Carr University, where she is the founding director of the Studio for Extensive Aesthetics, an artistic research studio at the intersection of art and computation. Frid-Jimenez holds an MS in media arts and sciences from the MIT Media Lab and a BA in art and philosophy from Wesleyan University. She is represented by Mónica Reyes Gallery in Vancouver.


  • Interaction Designer

    Brenda Laurel has worked in interactive media since 1976, in the computer game industry from Atari to Activision, and in research labs at Atari, Interval Research, and Sun Labs where she was a Distinguished Engineer. In 1988, she co-founded the Game Developers Conference. At the Banff Centre for the Arts, she co-designed and produced the ground-breaking VR piece, Placeholder. She led a research team on gender and technology at Interval Research (1992-1996) and co-founded Purple Moon, an interactive media company for girls, in 1996. She designed and chaired the Graduate Media Design Program at Art Center College of Design (2001-2006) and the Graduate Design Program at California College of the Arts (2006-2012), both emphasizing design research and transmedia methods and skills.

    In 2015 she received the Trailblazer Award from Indiecade. She was awarded the Nextant Prize from the Virtual World Society in 2016 and was named as a fellow of the Higher Education Videogame Alliance in 2018. She was inducted into the inaugural class of the IEEE Virtual Reality Academy in 2022. She has served on the boards of the Interaction Design Association (IxDA), the Virtual World Society, the Center for Digital Storytelling (StoryCenter), and the Communication Research Institute (Australia). Her books include The Art of Human-Computer Interface Design (1990), Utopian Entrepreneur (2001), Design Research: Methods and Perspectives (2004), and Computers as Theatre, (1991, Second Edition 2014).

    Laurel holds a BA in communication and theatre from DePauw University and MFA and PhD in theatre from the Ohio State
  • Architect

    Nathan Rich '02 is a founding principal at Peterson Rich Office, an architecture studio working on cultural projects with social impact. Founded in 2012, the office currently employs a diverse team comprising 6 countries and 5 languages. Over the past 10 years, the practice has grown to oversee more than $100 million of ongoing and realized projects for leading clients in the cultural, residential, retail, and public sectors. This includes 55,000 square feet of gallery space, four artist studio buildings, and numerous exhibitions. Through an ongoing eight-year partnership with the NYC Housing Authority (NYCHA), PRO has created and conducted inclusive community design exercises that provide critical insights and recommendations aimed at helping to improve the country’s largest public housing program. The firm’s work with NYCHA was featured in the 2023 “Architecture Now” exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art. Peterson Rich Office is currently working on cultural, residential, and commercial projects in New York, Connecticut, Michigan, Washington, California, and London. Rich holds degrees from Wesleyan University and the Yale School of Architecture.  

  • Attorney – Social and Civil Rights Implications of AI

    Rashida Richardson '08 is an assistant professor of law and political science at Northeastern University. Richardson is a nationally recognized expert in the civil rights implications of artificial intelligence and technology policy more broadly. Richardson is currently on leave to serve as senior counsel, Artificial Intelligence at Mastercard, and she has previously served as an attorney advisor to the chair of the Federal Trade Commission and as a senior policy advisor for data and democracy at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. Richardson has worked on a range of civil rights and technology policy issues at the German Marshall Fund, Rutgers Law School, AI Now Institute, the American Civil Liberties Union of New York (NYCLU), and the Center for HIV Law and Policy. Her work has been featured in the Emmy Award–winning documentary, The Social Dilemma, and in major publications like The New York Times, WIRED, MIT Technology Review, and NPR (national and local member stations). She received her BA with honors in the College of Social Studies at Wesleyan University and her JD from Northeastern University School of Law.

SESSION 3: Creativity and Imagination / The Invention of Identity / Considering Human Rights

  • Film Historian

    Jeanine Basinger is the Corwin-Fuller Professor of Film Studies Emerita, founder of the Wesleyan Cinema Archives, founding chair of the Film Studies Department, and a two-time recipient of Wesleyan’s Binswanger Prize for Excellence in Teaching. Wesleyan’s Center for Film Studies has been named in her honor. She has written numerous articles for, among others, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, American Film, Film Comment, and Opera News. She is also the author of 13 widely respected books on film, including Silent Stars, which won the National Board of Review’s William K. Everson Award, and The Star Machine, which won the Theatre Library Association Award. She is a trustee of the National Board of Review and of the American Film Institute, a member of the Warner Brothers Theatre Advisory Committee at the Smithsonian Institute, and a former member of the board of advisors of the Association of Independent Video and Filmmakers. She serves as advisor to Martin Scorsese’s project, “The Story of Movies,” and has associate produced two American Masters documentaries, one on the history of American cinema and the other on Clint Eastwood. An internationally known expert, she is a frequent commentator on podcasts and documentaries on all aspects of American film history.

  • Human Rights Lawyer

    James (Jim) Cavallaro is a professor of the practice at Wesleyan and a visiting professor at the Yale Jackson School of Global Affairs. His research, writing, and practice center human rights and social justice, with an emphasis on the Americas. He is the executive director of the University Network for Human Rights. Prior to launching the University Network, Cavallaro served as a professor at Stanford Law School (2011–2019) and as a clinical professor at Harvard Law School (2002–2011); at both schools he founded and directed the international human rights clinic. Prior to that, he lived and worked in Chile (1988–1990) and Brazil (1994–2002) with domestic and international rights organizations, including Human Rights Watch. Over the course of three decades, he has overseen dozens of human rights projects with scores of students in nearly 30 countries. In June 2013, Cavallaro was elected to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights for the 2014–2017 term. He served as president of that body from 2016 to 2017. A list of over 100 of his publications, with links to many, is available here.

    Cavallaro holds an AB from Harvard, a JD from Berkeley Law, and a PhD from the Universidad Pablo de Olavide, Spain. He speaks English, Spanish, and Portuguese fluently, and is proficient in Italian and French.

  • Engineer – Media, Science, Technology, Data

    Hong Qu '99 is an adjunct lecturer and research fellow at the Malcolm Wiener Center at Harvard Kennedy School. As one of the first engineers on YouTube’s startup team, he designed key features including video sharing, channels, and skippable ads. He was a visiting Nieman Fellow at Harvard in 2013 and is a graduate of Wesleyan University and the School of Information at UC Berkeley.

  • Computer Scientist and Game Inventor

    Christopher Weaver MALS'75, CAS'76 is a lecturer in comparative media studies at MIT, distinguished professor of computational media at Wesleyan University, and a distinguished research scholar and director of the Videogame Pioneers Initiative at the Smithsonian’s Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation. Weaver has written and contributed to numerous publications in computer technology and interactive media and holds patents in telecommunications, software methods, device security, and 3D graphics. He is the former director of Technology Forecasting for ABC and chief engineer to the Subcommittee on Communications for the US Congress. Weaver also founded Bethesda Softworks, which was acquired by Microsoft in 2021. He continues to explore the use of generative interactive media in education, research, and public history and currently teaches college students to utilize the power of computer-based tools to teach STEM subjects to elementary school children.

SESSION 4: Policy / Productivity / Economics / Oversight

  • US Senator from Colorado

    Michael Farrand Bennet '87, Hon. '12, P'27 has represented Colorado in the United States Senate since 2009. Recognized as a pragmatic and independent thinker, he is driven by an obligation to create more opportunity for the next generation. Bennet has built a reputation of taking on Washington dysfunction and working with Republicans and Democrats to address our nation’s greatest challenges—including education, climate change, immigration, health care, and national security. Before serving in the Senate, Bennet worked to restructure failing businesses and helped create the world’s largest movie theater chain. As superintendent of the Denver Public Schools, he led one of the most extensive efforts in the country, resulting in substantial, sustained academic improvement for Denver’s children.

  • Intellectual Historian

    Paul Erickson is associate professor of history at Wesleyan University and an intellectual historian with research interests in the use of mathematical models in the sciences.  His books include How Reason Almost Lost Its Mind (2013), which charts a 20th-century shift in scientists’ conception of rationality that took place in tandem with the emergence of electronic digital computers as plausible models for the human mind, and The World the Game Theorists Made (2015), which explores the cross-disciplinary appeal of game theory and models of rational choice in the later 20th century.  His current project examines the evolving relationship between economics and the environmental sciences in the 19th and 20th centuries, focusing in particular on the place of nature in models of the human economy.  

  • Economist

    Christiaan Hogendorn is professor of economics at Wesleyan University. His research focuses on market structure and competition in network and media industries. He is currently working on projects studying the potential regulation of social media. He was formerly a member of technical staff at Bell Laboratories, and he has been a visiting scholar at the Columbia Institute for Tele-Information (CITI), the Research Institute in Industrial Economics (IFN) in Stockholm, and the Hitachi Center for Technology and International Affairs at the Fletcher School, Tufts University. He has served as co-editor-in-chief of Information Economics and Policy. He received his PhD in applied economics from the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, and his BA in economics from Swarthmore College.

  • On-Air Correspondent for NBC News

    Jacob Ward '96 is an on-air correspondent for NBC News, covering the intersection of technology, human behavior, and social change for Nightly News, The TODAY Show, and MSNBC. Ward also hosts The Acceleration Hour on SiriusXM, a 60-minute crash course in what’s coming next. He is the former editor-in-chief of Popular Science magazine and was Al Jazeera’s science and technology correspondent from 2013 to 2018. Ward is a lecturer at the Stanford, and was a 2018-2019 Berggruen Fellow at Stanford University’s Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, where he began writing The Loop: How AI is Creating a World without Choices and How to Fight Back, out now in paperback from Hachette Book Group. The book explores how artificial intelligence and other decision-shaping technologies will amplify good and bad human instincts. Ward has written for The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, WIRED, and many other publications. In addition to hosting documentaries for Nat Geo and Discovery, he’s the host of the landmark four-hour PBS television series, Hacking Your Mind, about human decision-making and manipulation. He lives in Oakland, California.