Home Morningside Events - Morningside Area Alliance Literary Talks Celebrating Recent Work by Dennis Yi Tenen
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Venue

Columbia University - The Heyman Center
74 Morningside Dr, New York, NY 10027
Category

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Date

Apr 17 2024
Expired!

Time

6:15 pm - 8:00 pm

Formats (virtual, in person, hybrid)

Hybrid

Celebrating Recent Work by Dennis Yi Tenen

Literary Theory for Robots: How Computers Learned to Write
by Dennis Yi Tenen

In the industrial age, automation came for the shoemaker and the seamstress. Today, it has come for the writer, physician, programmer, and attorney.

Literary Theory for Robots reveals the hidden history of modern machine intelligence, taking readers on a spellbinding journey from medieval Arabic philosophy to visions of a universal language, past Hollywood fiction factories and missile defense systems trained on Russian folktales. In this provocative reflection on the shared pasts of literature and computer science, former Microsoft engineer and professor of comparative literature Dennis Yi Tenen provides crucial context for recent developments in AI, which holds important lessons for the future of humans living with smart technology.

Intelligence expressed through technology should not be mistaken for a magical genie, capable of self-directed thought or action. Rather, in highly original and effervescent prose with a generous dose of wit, Yi Tenen asks us to read past the artifice—to better perceive the mechanics of collaborative work. Something as simple as a spell-checker or a grammar-correction tool, embedded in every word-processor, represents the culmination of a shared human effort, spanning centuries.

Smart tools, like dictionaries and grammar books, have always accompanied the act of writing, thinking, and communicating. That these paper machines are now automated does not bring them to life. Nor can we cede agency over the creative process. With its masterful blend of history, technology, and philosophy, Yi Tenen’s work ultimately urges us to view AI as a matter of labor history, celebrating the long-standing cooperation between authors and engineers.

About the Author

Dennis Yi Tenen is an associate professor of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University, where he also co-directs the Center for Comparative Media. His research happens at the intersection of people, text, and technology. A long-time affiliate of Columbia’s Data Science Institute, formerly a Microsoft engineer in the Windows group and fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society, his code runs on millions of personal computers worldwide. Tenen received his doctorate in Comparative Literature at Harvard University under the advisement of Elaine Scarry and William Todd. The founder of Columbia’s Literary Modeling and Visualization Lab, he co-edits the On Method book series at Columbia University Press. His published work can be found in monographs including Plain Text: The Poetics of Computation (Stanford University Press, 2017), Literary Theory for Robots (W.W. Norton, 2024) and Author Function under contract with Chicago UP. His recent articles appear on the pages of Modern Philology, New Literary History, Amodern, boundary2, Computational Culture, and Modernism/modernity.

Register for in-person HERE.

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Event Contact Information:
Erin Fae
ef2713@columbia.edu