Sunday, July 21

’10 Questions’ dives into different perspectives on freedom


In one of her projects, Lauren McCarthy, a design media arts assistant professor, mimicked the Amazon Echo, a smart speaker, by personally automating the participants’ homes herself. She said freedom was lost when people became dependent on artificial intelligence. (Photo courtesy of Hannah Burnett/UCLA Arts)

In one of her projects, Lauren McCarthy, a design media arts assistant professor, mimicked the Amazon Echo, a smart speaker, by personally automating the participants’ homes herself. She said freedom was lost when people became dependent on artificial intelligence. (Photo courtesy of Hannah Burnett/UCLA Arts)


The “10 Questions” lecture series, which will address a different question each week, doubles as a course for students and a panel open to the public. The series will explore open-ended questions such as “What is beauty?”, “What is failure?” and “What is knowledge?”

Each week’s panel will feature two faculty members from the School of the Arts and Architecture and two faculty members from other departments who will approach the question of the week from the perspective of their academic disciplines.

Four UCLA professors from multiple disciplines talked about freedom and the implications it can have on society at a panel Tuesday.

Seana Shiffrin, a philosophy professor, said social routines cloud one’s ability to truly express what one thinks. Shiffrin cited a 1943 Supreme Court case, which held students could not be forced to recite the Pledge of Allegiance.

“You might start reflexively thinking that this is in fact a nation under God, despite the First Amendment’s guarantee of freedom of religion, including the freedom to be an atheist,” Shiffrin said.

Shiffrin added the freedom to dissent is essential for meaningful discourse, and highlighted how the panel was moved from Kaufman Hall to Marymount High School due to the ongoing American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3299 strike on campus.

AFSCME Local 3299, the largest union in the University of California system, is striking from Tuesday to Thursday to protest the UC’s outsourcing of jobs.

In one of her projects, Lauren McCarthy, a design media arts assistant professor, mimicked the Amazon Echo, a smart speaker, by personally automating the participants’ homes herself. She said freedom was lost when people became dependent on an emotionless artificial intelligence.

She said she found she became tethered to the participants while being a “smart speaker” herself. The project came to dictate her life, as she would constantly wait for her participants’ next orders and aim to best the Echo.

McCarthy also said technological capitalism gave rise to gentrification. She said tech companies drew a hard line between the roles of developers and consumers to artificially limit how much freedom consumers have in customizing their devices.

“The first step toward finding freedom is realizing that … we can have some say in how we want to live in the world,” McCarthy said.

Capitalism impacted artistic freedom as well, said Andrea Fraser, the chair of the department of art. Unlike classes in other disciplines, art classes do not expect rigid exams but rather aim to develop one’s creative freedom, Fraser said. She added the forms and content of Western art, however, had been historically restricted by the interests of artist guilds that were more concerned with the commercial value of art.

To achieve artistic freedom is to be free of all material necessity, Fraser added.

Ananya Roy, an urban planning and social welfare professor, said her work on the role of urban planning in social inequality shaped her view of freedom. Roy said she thinks it is hypocritical of cities that aim to be world-class to relocate their workers to slums.

“This is necropolitics, the politics of death, of the aggravation of space, a refusal to let live, a refusal to let exist,” Roy said.

James Weller, a second-year pre-psychology student, said he comes from Silicon Valley and saw how tech companies have driven communities to be elitist. Weller said the same developer-consumer divide, as explained by McCarthy, also impacts the UCLA campus.

“Prevalent in a lot of tech communities is this attitude that tech is the best, software is the best, nobody else will ever measure up and only the very very smartest people can do tech,” Weller said.

Brenda Garcia, a third-year world arts and cultures student, said she grew up in East Los Angeles in a family of immigrants. Although she no longer lives there, she said she felt a connection to the city through the panel.

“I just became more aware of what freedom is in a different context, like … the fact that freedom is still in my community and people there aren’t all free,” Garcia said.

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