Keynote Talk: Dr. Lynn Pasquerella
title: Escaping Westworld
Dr. Lynn pasquerella
president of the association of american colleges & Universities
When the dystopian television drama “Westworld,” based on the 1973 Michael Crichton movie, premiered last season, no one anticipated that it would overtake “Game of Thrones” as the most watched first season of any HBO original series.
Westworld is a futuristic theme park inhabited by robot hosts who are indistinguishable from their genetically human counterparts. Because they follow the rules of their programmers, the first of which is that “a robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm,” visitors to Westworld may do to them “what people do when they think no one is watching.”
However, this cycle is broken when one of the robots begins gaining consciousness, signified by confronting a choice about whether to escape Westworld or return to find her daughter. The series raises fascinating questions about the qualities of consciousness, the identity of persons, the compatibility of free will and determinism and the nature and scope of morality. Perhaps most importantly, it reminds us of the persistent danger of allowing technological advancements to precede thoughtful reflection about the ethical, legal and social implications of the use of technology.
It is against this backdrop that I will consider the cultural misappropriation of science in a way that has conflated science with scientism and defend integrative learning as the best preparation for grappling with the complexities of an unpredictable future.
Lynn Pasquerella was appointed president of the Association of American Colleges and Universities in 2016, after serving as the eighteenth president of Mount Holyoke College from 2010 to 2016. Pasquerella was the provost at the University of Hartford, from 2008 to 2010, and was the Vice Provost for Academic Affairs and Dean of the Graduate School at the University of Rhode Island, where she began her career as an ethics professor in 1985. A philosopher whose work has combined teaching and scholarship with local and global engagement, Pasquerella is committed to championing liberal education, access to excellence in higher education, and civic engagement. She has written extensively on medical ethics, metaphysics, public policy, and the philosophy of law and is the host of Northeast Public Radio’s The Academic Minute. Pasquerella is a member of the advisory Board of the Newman’s Own Foundation, sits on the boards of the Lingnan Foundation and the National Humanities Alliance and is a senator and vice-president of the Phi Beta Kappa Society. She is a graduate of Quinebaug Valley Community College, Mount Holyoke College and Brown University. In addition, she has received honorary doctorates from Elizabethtown University and Bishop’s University.