Reflections on listening to David Chalmers at Sydney University (Part I)

I have already mentioned in a previous post that I was lucky enough to hear David Chalmers speak at Sydney University about what the future might hold for Artificial Intelligence, Technology and Consciousness. I have also shown that (mostly) my understanding what he spoke about is limited, vague, superficial. This post isn’t going to be about what I heard per se, it’s actually going to be about what I saw.

The lecture started at 5.30pm in the Old Geology Theatre. My husband suggested we get our seats early as the lecture was likely to fill up quickly. I loved the prospect of that – it gave me that strange tingly feeling that there is still hope for humanity – afterall, it was a Friday night in a very dull and damp Sydney. We took our seats – towards the back of the theatre, of course – and we looked around at the motley bunch that had already secured their seats. From what I could see most had come straight from work or uni and were looking a little jet-lagged from another hectic week of 21st century busy-ness. Most had some form of electronic device in front of them – a screen as William Powers would say – ranging from iPhones to laptops and ipads.

At five minutes to showtime, the room was very full with the only spare seats available down the very front of the lecture theatre. People did their best to march confidently down the stairs to sit beside a stranger or two.

At exactly 5.30pm David Chalmers was introduced. And something strange and otherworldly happened (no, we weren’t taken over by super-intelligent zombies!!) … the digital devices, the screens of life, all disappeared. And something even more unbelievable occurred – they were replaced by pen and paper!

This may not seem strange to those of you who spend many hours each week at university, but for me I was amazed! I was hoping to tweet a few philosophical words of wisdom from Mr Chalmers to share with the twitterverse (and sound uber-intelligent and cultured at the same time) … but the screen was shunned! My husband occasionally checked his phone and did so in a semi-foetal position with his phone awkwardly hidden between his side and arm. I hadn’t seen that shape since we were at a friend’s wedding that was entirely in Greek!

So … is this normal? Is there a ‘no tweet’ rule at philosophy lectures? Or just uni lectures? Are they behind the times … or are they ahead of the times?