MIT Course Spring 2021
The last few years seems like we keep hitting new lows every month. From political (USA but other countries as well), to justice (with police and Black Lives Matter) to pandemics to climate crisis. Are we in a never-ending downward spiral? We don't think so, or at least, we aren't NECESSARILY so. In this course, you'll hear technically doable, economically viable solutions to the above problems and more. Our tools? Math, AI, materials science, robotics, end-user programming, advances in psychology, sociology, education and reasoning, all placed in a semi-coherent framework. Bring your toughest problems and we'll work with you to design new solutions if we don't have them already.
In July 2020, and Feb 2021 Henry and Fry gave a workshop at the United Nations UNESCO Center for Peace. We anticipate an increasingly international perspective in this spring's course, as a result of these workshops.
MIT, Harvard, Wellesley, UN students welcome. Please contact
ES.S40: How Science Can Enable a more Cooperative Future [3, 6, or 9 units]
On Zoom only.
You can register for the MIT course or audit it for free with permission obtained by emailing
Why do people fight with each other in situations where it makes
absolutely no sense? Why do we still have war, poverty, and other
social ills, despite the fact that no one wants these things? It is
just human nature? Why do these problems remain so difficult, despite
all the other advances society is making? Will future technology help?
This “big think” course will ask fundamental questions about the
nature of science, psychology, economics and politics, through the
lens of understanding the tradeoff between competition and
cooperation. We will study mathematical models of this tradeoff, like
the Prisoner’s Dilemma, and connect with evolutionary theory. We will
examine the psychology of motivation, and optimism vs. pessimism about
the “human nature” debate.
The thesis is that technological change increases the value of
cooperation and decreases the value of competition. This gives us an
unprecedented opportunity to redesign our institutions so that they
cooperate rather than compete with their constituents. The key
advances of artificial intelligence and personal manufacturing (3D
printers) will soon make it possible to end the material scarcity that
prevents us from developing the culture of empathy, cooperation, and
rationality that we need for the future. We will examine alternative
designs (and welcome yours!) for the economy, government, education
and justice systems.
Come save the world with us!
For more information, see
Henry Lieberman is a Research Scientist at the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. His interests are in the intersection of Artificial Intelligence and Human-Computer Interaction, to make computers smarter and more helpful to people. Prior to that, he directed the Media Lab’s Software Agents group as Principal Research Scientist.
Christopher Fry moved to Boston in 1973 to attend Berklee College of Music (the MIT of Jazz). Realizing his musical skills needed augmentation, he moved across the river to MIT (The Berklee of Computers). He’s worked at BBN, IBM, MIT’s Experimental Music Studio, Sloan (business) School & Media Lab and a host of start-ups. He’s written languages for music composition (Computer Improvisation and Flavors Band), general purpose computing (Macintosh Common Lisp and Water) and decision support via reasoning (Justify). His latest language and development environment is to help makers describe processes for robots to make anything.