Is AI the New Frankenstein? The 1st Annual Humanities & New Media Lecture by Prof. Ken Goldberg


Wednesday, February 6, 2019, 5:00pm


Sackler Building Basement Lecture Hall

200 years after Mary Shelley's masterwork appeared in print, “Artificial Intelligence” is running amok, provoking extreme claims of opportunities and threats.  Many assert that AI is an “exponential technology,” a “new electricity” that will transform every industry.  Advocates claim that fully autonomous cars and robots with human dexterity are just around the corner.  At the same time, headlines report that robots will soon steal the majority of our jobs.  A number of well-known and otherwise reasonable scientists and technologists state with confidence that AI will soon achieve a “Singularity” where Artificial General Intelligence (AGI) will vastly surpass human abilities and that such “superintelligence” is an existential threat to humanity.

"Humanity still has a few good years left," asserts Ken Goldberg, artist and William S. Floyd Distinguished Professor of Engineering at UC Berkeley.

Goldberg traces the history of Frankenstein to the Jewish 16th century myth of the Golem and to ETA Hoffman's classic The Sandman from 1816. In 1919, a year before the word “robot” was coined, Sigmund Freud published his influential essay, Das Unheimliche, later translated into English as “The Uncanny,” leading later to what Martin Jay described as the “master trope” of critical theory in the 1990s.

Professor Goldberg will link the Uncanny with contemporary robotics through the concept of the Uncanny Valley which relates to our contemporary human fear of and fascination with a broad variety of technologies from AI to Google Glass.

Professor Goldberg will describe his own artworks that examine the question of mortality to probe the boundary between what is alive and what is life-like. This multi-media presentation will feature a series of short films and artworks such as the Telegarden (1995-2004), an online installation that let participants tend a living garden using an industrial robot via the Internet.


Reading: Cultivating the Uncanny: The Telegarden and Other Oddities. Elizabeth Jochum and Ken Goldberg. Chapter 8 of Robots and Art: Exploring an Unlikely Symbiosis. Edited by Damith Herath, Christian Kroos, and Stelarc. Springer Press. Summer 2016:



Ken Goldberg is an artist, inventor, and UC Berkeley Professor focusing on robotics. He was appointed the William S. Floyd Jr Distinguished Chair in Engineering and in 2017-2018 served as Chair of the Industrial Engineering and Operations Research Department. Ken has secondary appointments in EECS, Art Practice, the School of Information, and Radiation Oncology at the UCSF Medical School. Ken is Director of the CITRIS "People and Robots" Initiative and the UC Berkeley AUTOLAB where he and his students pursue research in machine learning for robotics and automation in warehouses, homes, and operating rooms. Ken developed the first provably complete algorithms for part feeding and part fixturing and the first robot on the Internet. Despite agonizingly slow progress, he persists in trying to make robots less clumsy. He has over 250 peer-reviewed publications and 9 U.S. Patents. He co-founded and served as Editor-in-Chief of the IEEE Transactions on Automation Science and Engineering. Ken's artwork has appeared in 70 exhibits including the Whitney Biennial and films he has co-written have been selected for Sundance and nominated for an Emmy Award. Ken was awarded the NSF PECASE (Presidential Faculty Fellowship) from President Bill Clinton in 1995, elected IEEE Fellow in 2005 and selected by the IEEE Robotics and Automation Society for the George Saridis Leadership Award in 2016. He lives in the Bay Area and is madly in love with his wife, filmmaker and Webby Awards founder Tiffany Shlain, and their two daughters. ( @Ken_Goldberg)

Professor Goldberg's website


Professor Goldberg will also be speaking at the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences in a Special Robotics Seminar on "The New Wave in Robot Grasping."

Wednesday, February 6, 10-11am, Jefferson 256