Salzburg Global Fellows Discuss Artificial Intelligence and More at Pune International Literary Festival

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Dec 04, 2019
by Claire Kidwell and Oscar Tollast
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Salzburg Global Fellows Discuss Artificial Intelligence and More at Pune International Literary Festival

Salzburg Global partners with Indian literary festival and holds panel discussion on artificial intelligence and societal innovation From left to right - Parag Mankeekar, Stacy Baird, Seda Röder, and Charles Ehrlich at the Pune International Literary Festival

Salzburg Global Seminar cast an eye on the future at this year’s Pune International Literary Festival (PILF) as it partnered with the festival for the fourth consecutive year.

Each year, as part of the partnership, a Salzburg Global Seminar staff member convenes a select group of Fellows in Pune, for a main-stage panel discussion on a topic of global concern, as well as to participate in discussions on other issues within their expertise, and to provide mentoring and guidance to young authors participating in the festival. 

From 20-22 September, Charles Ehrlich, a program director at Salzburg Global, joined Fellows Stacy Baird, Seda Röder, and Parag Mankeekar in Pune, India. They took part in Salzburg Global’s main panel discussion on artificial intelligence (AI) and societal innovation. 

During this period, they also engaged in discussions on issues ranging from climate change to creativity in a digital age. The quartet have all participated in multiple programs at Schloss Leopoldskron spanning many of Salzburg Global Seminar’s key program areas across governance, justice, culture, health, and education, and could bring this diversity of knowledge and experience to Pune.

The Pune International Literary Festival is Pune’s first-ever English literary festival and provides a space for young authors to gain insight into the writing process, listen to personal stories from acclaimed authors, and attend panels on international topics to add relevance to their work.

The festival was established by author and Salzburg Global Fellow Manjiri Prabhu, who first came to Schloss Leopoldskron in 2002 for the program From Page to Screen: Adapting Literature to Film.

Inspired by her time in Salzburg, Prabhu wanted to create a forum where people who would not otherwise meet come and collaborate on international issues.

Prabhu said the festival was “extremely privileged” to have Salzburg Global return as an international partner. She said, “With every passing year, the bond has strengthened to serve a common objective, that of spreading knowledge to attain global peace. I hope that together we will bridge the gap between thoughts and action and bring about a change in the world through literature, arts, and culture.”

Seda Röder, a classical pianist and co-founder of Sonophilia, a global thinktank for creative leadership and cross-industry collaboration, was visiting India for the first time. In her work, she wants to help empower humans to become creative problem-solvers to tackle global challenges. Reflecting on the panel discussion she took part in, Röder said, “I had a feeling that some people were really afraid of how much technology should be actually accepted, how much AI should be in the room, [and] how much of the decision making it should take over. It’s an essential question to so many people.”

In the panel discussion, Fellows also discussed the visibility of data, the ethics surrounding it, and what checks could be put in place to protect people. Röder said there was agreement among panelists that societies have reached a point where there is no going back.

“I can’t imagine a future where all this improvement and innovation, and all the good and bad technology that goes with that - we won’t be able to take anything back,” Röder said. “You can’t tell people not to use social media or anything like that, I think that makes no sense. So we’ll have to figure out a way of steering the ship hopefully without making it sink.”

Parag Mankeekar, a health professional and anthropologist turned social-tech entrepreneur, found the experience of talking about AI at a literary festival a novel experience. He said, “The world constantly changes, and writers have a great role to play to bring this changing world reality to the thought process of the common man in a language that's easy to understand.”

During the panel discussion, Mankeekar sought to demonstrate how AI can help solve the world’s most challenging problems. He said, “The challenge is how common man can deal with the issues of data privacy and ‘illusions’ AI sets through its anti-social algorithms can be brought to the knowledge of common man… This is where I must appreciate the efforts of Salzburg [Global] Seminar and PILF to bring such an important topic as one of the main themes of the festival and sensitizing the society to be ready for the better future.”

Taking part in his first literary festival, law and technology expert Stacy Baird, consulting director at TRPC, said it was an honor to be involved and experience the festival’s creative energy. 

“It was a delight to be able to share insights on our topics, climate, and the environment and artificial intelligence, with an interesting and interested cross-cultural group of creative writers,” said Baird. “It was also wonderful to have the opportunity to meet a number of people from outside my usual sphere of association. I expect I have made several life-long friends.”

Additional Salzburg Global Fellows speaking at the festival included former UN undersecretary-general and acclaimed author Shashi Tharoor, who discussed his own life journey as well as his most recent book Why I am a Hindu

Salzburg Global program director Charles Ehrlich said he admired the “relaxed intergenerational atmosphere” created at the festival, which enabled participants and speakers to mix and talk freely, creating a synergy with Salzburg Global’s ethos. 

Ehrlich added, “It was also terrific to engage across multiple sectors in India’s second-largest literary festival – and we are very pleased Salzburg Global Seminar was able to bring Fellows to the Festival who themselves crossed so many disciplines. The Festival itself sought out this diversity, and it is precisely these interconnections that underline why Salzburg Global Seminar and the Pune International Literary Festival make good partners.”