2024 Goldtrap Lecture meet and greet — “Natural and Artificial Intelligence: How Rational Are Humans?”

CATEGORIES: Department Events
April 12, 2024, 4:15-5:15pm | Ross 212

Feel free to come to Ross 212 between 4:15 and 5:15 on Friday, April 12, to ask him questions and learn more about his research.

Are humans fundamentally irrational? Is that why so many people commit statistical and logical blunders and fall for fake news, medical quackery, paranormal woo-woo, and conspiracy theories? Is Artificial Intelligence rendering the human mind irrelevant? In this lecture, acclaimed scientist and author Steve Pinker presents an alternative. We humans, after all, have discovered the laws of nature, lengthened and enriched our lives, and discovered the benchmarks for rationality itself. And despite the hype, we are not ready to let AI run simple errands, watch after our babies, or even drive our cars through city streets. Pinker argues that humans think in ways that are sensible in the low-tech contexts in which we spend most of our lives, but we fail to take advantage of the powerful tools of reasoning our best thinkers have discovered over the millennia: logic, critical thinking, probability, correlation and causation, and optimal ways to update beliefs and commit to choices individually and with others. Current AI, in the form of deep learning networks and large language models, is yet another tool in the kit of ways we have enhanced out natural intelligence, better in many ways than natural intelligence but worse than others. Another source of irrationality is that the rational pursuit of self-interest, sectarian solidarity, and uplifting mythology by individuals can add up to crippling irrationality in a society. Collective rationality depends on norms that are designed to promote objectivity and truth. Rationality matters. It leads to better choices in our lives and in the public sphere, and is the ultimate driver of social justice and moral progress.

Steven Pinker is a cognitive scientist who has been named by TIME as one of the 100 Most Influential People in the World. His keynotes have helped millions demystify the science behind human language, thought, and action. Pinker is a Harvard professor, a TED speaker, and a bestselling author, twice nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. Highly respected in the scientific community, his work and opinions are extensively covered in the mainstream media, and have won a wide general audience. In his latest book, Rationality: What It Is, Why It Seems Scarce, Why It Matters, Pinker argues that we fail to take advantage of the most powerful tools of reasoning discovered by some of our best thinkers: logic, critical thinking, probability, correlation and causation. These tools are not a standard part of our educational curricula, and have never been presented clearly and entertainingly in a single book—until now.

A native of Montreal, Steven Pinker is Johnstone Professor of Psychology at Harvard University. Previously, he taught at Stanford and at MIT. He is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He has won a number of teaching prizes, and his research on visual cognition and the psychology of language has received numerous awards, including the Troland Award from the National Academy of Sciences.

The ISU Book store will be at the event selling copies of the speaker’s book.