EECS Colloquium: Symbiosis or Annihilation? How Humans and Technology Coevolve

Colloquium | September 27 | 4-5 p.m. | Soda Hall, 306 (HP Auditorium)

 Edward A. Lee, Robert S. Pepper Distinguished Professor, EECS/U.C. Berkeley

 Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences (EECS)

In this talk, I argue that digital technology and computing are coevolving, in a Darwinian sense, with human culture. I examine the relationship between discovery, invention, and design, and the way that background models ("unknown knowns") shape technology development. I claim that technology is limited less by physical constraints than by lack of imagination and inability to adapt. Human creativity in design, invention, and discovery provides mutation, and then symbiotic coevolution takes over. Pursuing a yin and yang balance, I show that digital computing, as defined today, does not provide the universal information-processing machines that many people assume. I confront the question of whether physical processes and cognition are digital and computational and show that the thesis that they are is not falsifiable and therefore not scientific. And I argue that the aim of artificial intelligence to reproduce human cognitive functions vastly underestimates the potential of computers. This talk draws from my just-published book, Plato and the Nerd -- The Creative Partnership of Humans and Technology, MIT Press, 2017.

Followed by panel discussion with Professor David Bates (Rhetoric), Professor Ken Goldberg (IEOR) and Professor Jitendra Malik (EECS)

Edward A. Lee is the Robert S. Pepper Distinguished Professor in the Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences (EECS) department at U.C. Berkeley. His research interests center on design, modeling, and analysis of embedded, real-time computational systems. He is the director of the nine-university TerraSwarm Research Center (, a director of Chess, the Berkeley Center for Hybrid and Embedded Software Systems, and the director of the Berkeley Ptolemy project. From 2005-2008, he served as chair of the EE Division and then chair of the EECS Department at UC Berkeley. He is co-author of nine books (counting second and third editions) and numerous papers. He has led the development of several influential open-source software packages, notably Ptolemy and its various spinoffs. He received the B.S. degree in Computer Science from Yale University, New Haven, CT, in 1979, the S.M. degree in EECS from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Cambridge, in 1981, and the Ph.D. degree in EECS from the University of California Berkeley, Berkeley, in 1986. From 1979 to 1982 he was a member of technical staff at Bell Telephone Laboratories in Holmdel, New Jersey, in the Advanced Data Communications Laboratory. He is a co-founder of BDTI, Inc., where he is currently a Senior Technical Advisor, and has consulted for a number of other companies. He is a Fellow of the IEEE, was an NSF Presidential Young Investigator, and won the 1997 Frederick Emmons Terman Award for Engineering Education.