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Confirm Humanity

Ann Mellow, Associate Director
September 02, 2016

Praying HandsWe’ve all encountered “captchas” online—those wiggly words we re-type to prove that we are not a machine. But recently I encountered wording I had never seen before. It simply read: “Confirm Humanity.”

Confirm humanity. All of a sudden I felt strangely inadequate. Somehow, it seemed to me, I was being asked to validate a “being-ness” that goes far beyond being a member of the species homo sapiens. I wished I was more up to speed on the world’s great philosophers and theologians, not to mention neuroscientists and evolutionary biologists.

In that moment of hesitation, I thought how do I define humanity—in general, or my own? What does ‘humanity’ mean, look like, feel like? What does it mean for how we live? Could I confirm my humanity?

It struck me that this is one of most important purposes of a classical education as well as a 21st century one, and certainly of an Episcopal education—to explore, affirm, struggle with, and define our humanity. How do we preserve it, live into it, hold up its immense richness and confront its tragic flaws?

The emergent fields of machine learning and artificial intelligence are engaged in serious research and experimentation to create machines that can feel and “read’ human emotions. But how well are we at doing the same as bona fide human beings? And what very human flaws might our machines eventually inherit from us?

Confirm humanity. If only it were as simple as typing in a few letters and pushing a button.


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