Stars Show Up for an Exclusive Soho House Science Talk

Tom Cohen
James Van Der Beek and other guests

Gwyneth Paltrow and James Van Der Beek were among the guests at the Berggruen Institute discussion on the impact of technology on society.

Stars and scientists gathered at the West Hollywood Soho House on Thursday night, where they listened to a conversation between Arati Prabhakar, former head of DARPA and a Berggruen Institute Fellow at Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University, and John Markoff, a columnist at the The New York Times and also a Berggruen Institute Fellow at CASBS.

The conversation, hosted by musician D.A. Wallach and emceed by Margaret  Levi, director of CASBS at Stanford University, was freewheeling and wide-ranging focusing on a number of contemporary topics, such as the future of AI, the potential for automation to replace human jobs, and the need to develop an ethical code to help humans control powerful new technologies.

Markoff said that while people feared machines taking their jobs, many countries with rapidly aging populations would benefit from increased automation.

“I was making the argument that robotics would come to China and because they were going to displace jobs in China they were going to lead to social destruction," he revealed. "And [Prabhakar] stopped me and said, 'You don’t get it. In China, they will be lucky if the robots come just in time.'”

Markoff went on to explain that because China has a growing population of senior citizens and a shrinking workforce, there will be a need for increased automation just to keep the economy running at its current levels. He also noted that this would be a problem in several countries, including the United States.

Prabhakar discussed the tension of wanting to have the latest and most up-to-date technology in our lives, but also the trade-offs in privacy that come with it.

“I think that the insidious ways that this technology, the sort of slow ways that it creeps into our lives is really going to make a huge difference and they’re much harder to spot," she said. "We got an Echo at our house and my husband is a privacy fanatic and he said, ‘That thing is listening to every single thing we say,’ and I was like, ‘Yeah, but it plays Van Morrison. Isn’t that awesome?’ So I think we’re all participating in those trade-offs, day to day.”

The conversation was part of a regular series that CASBS hosts at Soho House about the impact of contemporary technology on human life and society. The Stanford-based think tank brings together intellectual leaders from diverse disciplines, such as academia, media, entertainment and government, to discuss and advance our understanding of human behaviors, beliefs and institutions.

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