Enlightening Lunch with Sylvester A. Johnson

Tech for Humanity: Social Justice, Humanities, and the Future of Talent

Wednesday, Jan. 20 
12 -1 p.m. MST, Via Zoom

The most difficult challenges of a technological society are emerging at its human frontier in the form of inequality. Our global society has demonstrated far greater success resolving technical challenges and far less concerning the humanistic, ethical dilemmas with which we are confronted. As the twenty-first century reveals a growing concentration of wealth and exacerbation of structural injustice, it becomes more urgent for humanistic expertise and comprehensive formations of technology talent to interface with equity issues. In this talk, Sylvester Johnson examines some key aspects of the "Tech for Humanity" initiative that Virginia Tech has launched to augur a human-centered approach that advances public interest technology leadership and social justice in a society shaped by innovation.

Sylvester A. Johnson is Assistant Vice Provost for the Humanities and Executive Director of the “Tech for Humanity” initiative at Virginia Tech. He is the founding director of Virginia Tech’s Center for Humanities, which intersects with “Tech for Humanity” by supporting human-centered research and humanistic approaches to the guidance of technology. Sylvester’s research has examined religion, race, and empire in the Atlantic world; religion and sexuality; national security practices; and the impact of intelligent machines and human enhancement on human identity and race governance. In addition to co-facilitating a national working group on religion and US empire, Johnson led an Artificial Intelligence project that developed a successful proof-of-concept machine learning application to ingest and analyze a humanities text. He is the author of The Myth of Ham in Nineteenth-Century American Christianity (Palgrave 2004), a study of race and religious hatred that won the American Academy of Religion’s Best First Book award; and African American Religions, 1500-2000 (Cambridge 2015), an award-winning interpretation of five centuries of democracy, colonialism, and freedom in the Atlantic world. Johnson has also co-edited The FBI and Religion: Faith and National Security Before and After 9/11 (University of California 2017). He is co-edit founding co-editor of the Journal of Africana Religions. He is currently producing a digital scholarly edition of an early English history of global religions and writing a book on human identity in an age of intelligent machines and human-machine symbiosis.