Technological Anxiety and Hope: Artificial Intelligence in Digital Culture

Principal Investigator

Suren Jayasuriya

Co Investigator

Award Amount



National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH)

Grant start date

Grant end date

The Challenge

In the last 50 years, the rise of computing and artificial intelligence (AI) has transformed our society. Futuristic applications such as autonomous vehicles are now driving on Arizona roadways, websites can now recognize and identify faces in an image, and our stock trading is driven by machine learning algorithms. The current artificial intelligence revolution may prove to be as transformative as the invention of the printing press or the steam engine, and it will certainly play a major role in the lifetimes of our students. the impact of AI will be felt not just in smartphones and the internet-of-things, but increasingly through “smart cities”, homes, and even inside the human body.

Against this backdrop, students in the humanities and STEM are united in expressing conflicting emotions between the hope and promise of AI, and the anxiety and fear of such systems. Popular viewpoints revolve around the eschatological visions of the theory of the singularity, fixed indelibly in our shared consciousness by movies such as the Terminator franchise. In fact, we believe those stories overshadow the very real ways in which limited computational “intelligence” is already beginning to transform many cultural practices. It is clear that students will be forced to engage with AI in their careers, their homes, and their societies, in both abstract and tangible interactions. We need to give them the critical tools, frameworks and questions to navigate this techno-social sea change as it unfolds.

The Approach

The goal of this proposal is to foster a transdisciplinary learning environment where humanities and STEM students can think critically, engage, and interact with state-of-the-art AI algorithms and systems in humanistic frameworks. At Arizona State University in the School of Arts, Media and Engineering (AME), we already offer a unique B.A. in Digital Culture. This planning grant will begin the development of an undergraduate curriculum specialized track for our Digital Culture B.A. leveraging the diversity of the program’s student body create a fusion of humanities and technically grounded pedagogy around artificial intelligence and machine learning. This curriculum track will feature a core set of classes with complementary domain knowledge drawing primarily from philosophy, literature, computer science, and electrical engineering, and a focus on experiential learning with capstone projects/theses.

Findings and Impact

The results of this grant include a newly developed course AME 494 Minds and Machines, as well as a published paper on the creation of a multimodal chatbot for experiential theater. In addition, three podcasts from the Center for Science and the Imagination were released for the public: (1) Dr. Katie Bouman who helped capture the first image of a black hole, (2) Dr. Moya Bailey, a Black queer feminist scholar, writer, and activist, and (3) Regina Kanyu Wang, an award-winning Chinese science fiction writer.