Earlier this month, the Trinity Long Room Hub invited colleagues and friends to a discussion on the value of humanities skills and perspectives to the global technology sector, as part of their enterprise pathways initiative. The event, on Tuesday 5 March, commenced with an online contribution by Rishi Jaitly, Professor of Practice and Distinguished Humanities Fellow at Virginia Tech University and was followed by a panel of academic and industry experts sharing their own case studies on the humanities in technology. The event was moderated by Professor Jane Ohlmeyer, Erasmus Smith’s Chair of Modern History, Co-PI of Trinity’s Human+ fellowship programme and PI of VOICES, an ERC project using information science and digital tools to recover the lived experience of early modern women in Ireland.

Kicking off the event, Professor Jaitly discussed his approach to the humanities as an entrepreneur and technologist with a degree in History, who has led teams in major tech companies including Google and Twitter, and most recently as a senior advisor to OpenAI.

Noting that a significant number of leaders in the tech industry have backgrounds in humanities subjects, he argued that the arts provide valuable leadership skills. He has put this into practice at Virginia Tech by founding the Institute for Leadership in Technology, which provides an executive degree in the Humanities aimed at the technological landscape. Jaitly stressed the importance of ensuring that leaders in technology are “more experienced in the human other, which is what the humanities stand for.” 

“In a world where computing and commercial skills are increasingly accessible, it’s human sensibilities that will prove breakthrough, for people, products, and public policy that endures.” - Rishi Jaitly

Following this was an in-person round table with Dr Marisa Ronan, Dr Martin Clancy and Professor Jennifer Edmond.  As an English PhD graduate working in Global Leadership Development in Microsoft and an inaugural fellow at the Virginia Tech Institute for Leadership in Technology, Marisa Ronan discussed a repositioning in the tech industry towards human-centred learning and leadership. She noted that these skills are not being positioned “as soft-skills but as critical capabilities that support organisational growth, operational excellence and innovation’’. 

Picture of panelists

Referencing Katina L. Rogers she argued that there is increasing recognition that “humanities training supports the articulation of ideas across different groups of people, the ability to learn quickly and deeply, as well as high levels of critical thinking, interpretation, cultural understanding and communication” . Ronan also commended the role of Digital Humanities research in providing in tangible terms the connection between technology and the humanities and the intrinsic value of applying a humanities lens to digital spaces.

Senior AI Research Fellow at the Insight SFI Centre in DCU and Policy Fellow at the Trinity Long Room Hub, Dr Martin Clancy introduced his industry-driven AI System AI:OK. This initiative promotes ethical and sustainable practices in music production, by upholding and supporting the intellectual property rights of workers in the field. Talking about the importance of the ongoing discussion about technology, he observed that the inclusion of the arts gives humans “an opportunity to shape this future.”

Dr Jennifer Edmond was the final speaker of the evening. As Associate Professor of Digital Humanities at Trinity College Dublin and Director of the Trinity Centre for Digital Humanities, she presented on the pedagogical pathways that Trinity is offering to “the new generation of humane technologists,” ranging from undergraduate to postdoctoral programmes. She provided insights on the high concentration of international female students enrolled in the MPhil in Digital Humanities, and the potential this offers to the future of the sector.

The Q&A session that followed echoed Jaitly’s observation that academics and industry experts alike must employ the “window that the humanities provide, trusting that the work of mirrors will happen.” The dialogue focused on how the skills of critiquing, reflection and communication achieved through the arts and humanities are invaluable tools for global thought leadership.