What better way to connect new students than through a common book?
Each year, a faculty committee selects a new Common Reading book that aligns with the year’s Ethics theme. An electronic copy of the book will be loaded onto student iPads and will be an integral part of classwork during Institute class sessions. The book is then incorporated into First Year Colloquium and Writing Seminar courses.
A Common Reading experience is often seen as a great way for new students to embark upon the intellectual challenges of the college experience. A
The 2018-2019 Ethics Theme is Technology.
New technologies have long raised new ethical challenges. As we extend our abilities to transform ourselves and our world, we must explore new questions of whether and how we should choose to limit our new powers. From the unleashing of energy by splitting an atom, to manipulating genomes to serve human purposes and preferences, as the pace of technological progress has increased, we must confront more and more urgent ethical challenges that touch every area and aspect of our lives.
But many of the challenges we face are harder to identify. Some have to do with the way we are transforming our everyday lives as we augment our abilities to access information, and, both extend our relationships through time and space and depersonalize them with technological mediation.
This year through our common reading, the Annual Ethics Teach-In, courses, lectures, and your own experiences, you will reflect on these challenges in a community wide conversation about the relationship between ethics and technology.
Topics may include such things as—the development of Artificial Intelligence; the automation of and replacement of workers; radical life-extension technologies’ climate change and geo-engineering; the extensive monetization of attention; bioengineering of organisms (including ourselves); and, the threat from and the new prospects for digitally mediated forms of community.
The common reading book will be Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein or the Modern Prometheus (1831 edition).
Written when author Mary Shelley was just eighteen years old, Frankenstein blends science fiction, the Gothic novel, and Romanticism to raise crucial questions about the dangers of technology and science, the limits of human knowledge, and the definition of humanness.
Even people who haven’t read Frankenstein are probably familiar with the green face of Frankenstein’s monster that permeates modern popular culture. However, Shelley’s novel begins not with Victor Frankenstein in his laboratory bringing his creation to life, but with Arctic explorer Robert Walton heading off to discover a path to the North Pole. Intertwining three narratives, Frankenstein involves us with a trio of characters seeking to define their roles in society by testing the limits of science, creativity, and human knowledge: Walton, scientist Victor Frankenstein, and Frankenstein’s misfit creation. In telling the complex story of these three and their interactions, Frankenstein actively engages with the scientific and philosophical debates of its time period as it explores how far we should go in testing the boundaries set by technology and the inventiveness of the human mind.
Frankenstein turns 200 years old this year, but the ethical questions it poses about the proper place of technology, science, and invention in shaping human lives remain as potent as ever in today’s increasingly technological world.