What should my grad students read about emerging AI?

Bryan Alexander 2023-11-14

I have a seminar meeting coming up for my technology and innovation class, and I’m not sure what readings I should assign. The subject is AI, and I have many thoughts but no conclusions.  So today I’m asking for readers’ suggestions.  Yes, I’m firing up a good, old fashioned bleg post.

To explain: I teach in Georgetown University’s Learning, Design, and Technology (LDT) program.  This class, Technology and Innovation by Design, is required for all LDT students. It takes them through a range of ways of understanding tech, from historical accounts to imaginative writing, economics to critical theory, sociology to feminism, antiracism to area studies.  I love teaching it and am always looking for ways to make it better and more exciting. (see latest syllabus at end of this post)

This year I’ve expanded the unit on AI because of the current large language model (LLM) revolution. We’ve done some AI exercises during the semester, and now we’re going to devote hours to the topic.


Midjourney’s best attempt.

For the class session (and maybe two) I have some plans. First, an informal and quick series of go-rounds where I ask students to share what they know about generative AI, what they think about it, then what they’ve done with the stuff.  Second, students will do hands-on work with various tools, including chatbots, image creators, and others.  That will include discussions and lots of peer learning. Third, I’m going to break habit and lecture for a bit, based on my AI work.  That’s to give them a sense of what I see as rapidly emerging things happening, along with a grounding in the technologies.

Besides all of that, and before all of it, I’d like the students to read mind-expanding and interesting material which should challenge them, which is where you come in.  Readings should be scholarly, preferably, as one goal of the program is to acculturate students to reading academic research.

Some parameters:

  • The students are brilliant.  They are mostly international.  Age is mostly in the 20s. Gender is balanced.
  • They don’t have a lot of coding background, generally, being more grounded in media work.
  • So far they have expressed interest in AI, but have not revealed a great deal of experience or enthusiasm for the tech.
  • They come from a variety of disciplinary backgrounds, with an emphasis on the social sciences and humanities.
  • While the class is focused on technology, the end point is its use in higher education.
  • I love historical documents, but want to make sure we include current writing which addresses emerging AI.

I’ve been considering some items with a diversity of approaches and themes, tending to be from the past couple of years:

Brent Anders, The AI Literacy Imperative.

Emily M. Bender, Timnit Gebru, Angelina McMillan-Major, and “Shmargaret Shmitchell,” “On the Dangers of Stochastic Parrots: Can Language Models Be Too Big? 🦜

Ian Bogost, “ChatGPT Is About to Dump More Work on Everyone” and “ChatGPT Is Dumber Than You Think”

James Bridle, “The Stupidity of AI”

Ted Chiang, “ChatGPT is a Blurry JPEG of the Web” and “Will AI Become the New McKinsey?”

Tyler Cowen and Alex Tabarrok, “How to Learn and Teach Economics with Large Language Models, including GPT “

Jason Fagone, “The Jessica Simulation”

Paola Ricaurte, “Artificial Intelligence and the Feminist Decolonial Imagination”

Joana Varon and Paz Peña, “Artificial intelligence and consent: a feminist anti-colonial critique”

Also, using this game for the paperclip problem.

What would you recommend, o readers?  Some of these, or others?  Thank you for any suggestions.

DALL-E envisions the class.

DALL-E envisions the class.

PS: Here’s the class syllabus so far, for context.  I’ve removed some things which don’t seem relevant and anonymized students, as I haven’t asked permission to use their names:

Tuesday, August 29, 2023 – introductions


Tuesday, September 12, 2023 – Histories of technology, I

Tuesday, September 19, 2023 – Histories of technology, II

Tuesday, September 26, 2023 – Imagining innovation


Student tech presentations: the toilet

Tuesday, October 3, 2023 – How innovations spread, I

  • Readings: Everett M. Rogers, Diffusion of Innovations, 5th Edition: 1-52; 72-3; 87-218  (chapter 1; chapter 2 through the Miracle Rice story, the STOP AIDS story, and from “Opinion Leaders” on; chapters 3-5)
  • Referenced: Moore, Crossing the Chasm

Student tech presentation: vaccines

Friday, October 6 – analysis of one innovation due

Tuesday, October 10, 2023 –  – How innovations spread, II

Student tech presentations:   GPS

Tuesday, October 17, 2023 – How to nurture innovation


  • Jon Gernter, The Idea Factory: Bell Labs and the Great Age of American Innovation (part one, chapters 1-11)
  • Rosen, “Prologue and Changes in the Atmosphere”

Student tech presentations: birth control pill

Tuesday, October 24, 2023– Justice and innovation, 1


Student tech presentations:  cement

Tuesday, October 31, 2023 – Justice and innovation, 2


  • Benjamin, Race After Technology: Abolitionist Tools for the New Jim Code, 97-end.
  • Walter Benjamin, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” (one copy)

Student tech presentations:  antibiotics

Tuesday, November 7, 2023 – Beyond America and Europe

Reading: Digital Middle East, selections:

    1. Zayani, “Mapping the Digital Middle East: Trends and Disjunctions”, 1-32
    2. Any four (4) chapters of your choosing, based on your interests  

Student tech presentation:  eyeglasses

Three technologies to think about

Friday, November 10 – annotated bibliography due

Tuesday, November 14, 2023 – Critiquing technology

Student tech presentations: WiFi