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Alumni book club discusses fickle future

Thursday, 18 May 2017 1:14pm

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What will it mean to be human in a future shaped by technology? Faculty of Law Dean Professor Mark Henaghan led entertaining and insightful discussions on this topic, and many others, during the second Alumni, Books and Conversation with Otago Lecturers (ABC) event at Dunedin’s University Book Shop on 16 May.

The evening began with Professor Henaghan’s observations on a favourite read, Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow by Yuval Harari, before the floor was opened for questions and observations from alumni.

During his presentation Professor Henaghan described reading Homo Deus as a “liberating experience”.

Harari’s macro-history showed how dominant ‘ideas’ that have shaped humans’ world-view – such as the supremacy of the Roman Catholic Church before the Reformation, or the total authority of the Pharaohs – were inevitably replaced by other powerful orthodoxies.

Professor Henaghan also explained how the book’s title relates to Harari’s dystopian vision of humanity’s bifurcated future – the author suggests that in time the super-rich may strive to achieve technologically assisted immortality via gene editing and merging with machines (to become the ‘Homo Deus’), while the “useless masses will cede jobs and decisions to machines and algorithms.”

Alumni and Professor Henaghan discussed a wide range of related issues, including the plausibility of Harari’s suggestions, other relevant titles and the extent to which communication technology had already changed human interactions.

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Alumni Relations Officer (Liaison) Lizzy Lukeman says this year’s monthly events are aimed at encouraging alumni to explore topical ideas with Otago lecturers and gain insights into their research, and “what makes them tick.”

“We receive regular requests from alumni wanting to keep learning with the University, and to meet socially with local alumni. We are delighted to partner with UBS to satisfy these requests and provide a relaxed forum for stimulating discussion,” she says.

On 21 June, Summer School and Continuing Education Director Elaine Webster will discuss fashion and the books A Guide to Elegance by Genevieve Antonine Dariaux and Sex and Suits: the evolution of modern dress by Anne Hollander.

Click here for 21 June event details