Can We Survive Technology

3 Weeks


Cohort-based Course

Five lively group discussions of film & literature exploring the economic, political, & ethical implications of technological change.

Course overview

The myth that science is apolitical

As a technologist, it can be tempting to think of all innovation as forward progress, to think of all technology as apolitical.

The reality is messier. Technological change often presents ethical dilemmas, and throughout history the struggle over the spoils of new technology has spurred social and political conflict.

This is the fifth installment in a series of seminars we began as part of the IAP Program at MIT. This year we're moving to a virtual seminar, hosted on Maven, open to anyone.

Past topics:

(2020) Film Noir & Failures of the Enlightenment & Industrial Revolution. 

(2019) Narrative, Intelligence, and AI. 

(2018) Consciousness, Computation, and the Universe. 

(2017) AI, Mass Automation, and the Evolution of Human Dignity.

Who is this course for


Technologists interested in ethics


People who are interested in film


People who enjoy lively discussions

What you’ll get out of this course

Watch and discuss some excellent films

Dr. Strangelove (1964), The Death of Stalin (2017), Influence (2020), American Factory (2019), Her (2013)

Read and discuss provocative texts

Together we'll read works from John von Neumann, David Foster Wallace, Ursula Le Guin, James Bridle, Nick Bostrom, Franz Kafka, and others.

Participate in lively discussion

Share you ideas and reactions inspired by the readings and films

Learn from others

Hear what your course mates bring from their own experiences

Meet your instructors

Andrew Kortina

Andrew Kortina

Andrew Kortina writes about technology, philosophy, politics, and culture at He co-founded and

Rob Cheung

Rob Cheung

Rob works in software and spends a lot of time thinking about social systems, economics, and culture.

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Course syllabus


Existential Risk

A central question that arises out of the continual increase in technological leverage is: When, if ever, does it become dangerous? Does social volatility necessarily increase with understanding, and is there a limit to social volatility?


Dr Strangelove (1h 35m)


Von Neumann (15pp)

Cowen (41pp)

Bostrom (16pp)


Extreme Security Technology

One response to the existential risk technology is "extreme security"—pervasive surveillance, contact tracing, or increasing militarization. Are there alternatives?


The Death of Stalin (1h 47m)


Crawford (7pp)

NYT (12m)


Trust, Misinformation, and Censorship

We rely on social information, but this exposes us to risks via memes, misinformation, and censorship.


Influence (1h 45m)


Bridle (21pp)

Foster Wallace (51pp)


Economic Destabilization

If our economic regimes continue to concentrate the spoils of innovation in the hands of a few inventors, ever more increasing economic inequality might destabilize society.


American Factory (1h 55m)


Korinek (9pp)

Acemoglue & Restrepo (25pp)

Weinstein (2pp)


Human Dignity

If we successfully automate more of the essential and necessary functions of humans—eg, production of food and energy, physical labor, or even things like the creation of art and scientific models—what will we do to feel "needed" and how will this impact our sense of dignity?


Her (2h 6m)


Camus (44pp)

Le Guin (4pp)

Kafka (1pp)

Course schedule

8-10 hours per week
  • Discussions: Mondays & Thursdays

    7:30pm - 9:00pm ET

    Mon 20 Feb

    Thur 23 Feb

    Mon 27 Feb

    Thur 2 Mar

    Mon 6 Mar

  • Viewings

    3 hours per week

    Two films per week, watched on your own time.

  • Readings

    2-3 hours per week

    Roughly 50 pages per meeting, read on your own time.

Frequently Asked Questions

What happens if I can’t make a live session?
What if I don't finish the film or readings for a session?

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