H, a new publication to expand the horizons of EPFL students

© 2024 EPFL

© 2024 EPFL

A new publication from the College of Humanities, “H”, part magazine, part biannual report, has just launched. We spoke to CDH Director Frédéric Kaplan about the origin of this publication and the meaning of “H”.

The College of Humanities is publishing “H” this week. How did this project come about?

Over the years, we have published reports taking stock of CDH’s activities. But in the last couple years, I have instead directed this effort towards another goal, a strategy of creating publications, videos, activities, and participatory projects to help EPFL students face the challenges of the 21st century. This publication, “H”, is the first step.

What will readers find in this first edition?

This first publication, coordinated by Virginie Martin and Stephanie Parker, is anchored in the research, educational projects, and events that CDH led during 2022 and 2023, tackling crucial and complex issues facing contemporary society.

  • What is the future of journalism in the age of generative artificial intelligence?
  • How can we develop sustainable solutions by imagining new approaches to design?
  • How can we use immense amounts of data about the past to make better decisions about the future?
  • How can we act ethically and in solidarity in a world segmented into antinomic and inconsistent visions?

Each topic is presented visually and concretely to illustrate how the convergence of science, technology, the arts, and humanities can help explore new spaces for solutions.

Who is the audience of “H”?

First and foremost, the students, who come from all over the world and face common challenges. The 21st century opened with the promise of technological progress, the sharing of knowledge and prosperity, the dream of a united world capable of overcoming divisions and fostering peace, and communication between all peoples. Twenty years on, we are witnessing many signs of setbacks, perhaps heralding, as has been the case historically, a more profound transformation: the return of wars we thought anachronistic, the reinforcement of walls and borders, and the breakdown of dialogue-based diplomacy. Technological infrastructures themselves, such as social networks, have largely ceased to have the promised positive impacts, and instead reinforce separations and fuel divisions. More recently, the rapid progress of artificial intelligence, which could open unprecedented access to knowledge and shared prosperity, is accompanied by fears of a concentration of cultural and technical powers in the hands of a few private players, and of the global risks of proletarianization, i.e. the loss of skills and autonomy concerning abilities as fundamental as expressing oneself through writing, producing images, or solving complex problems.

These destabilizing and unprecedented developments, superimposed on a feeling of powerlessness in the face of the climate crisis, are anxiety-provoking for our students' generation. As the College of Humanities, our mission is to help them develop the knowledge and techniques they need to cope with this complexity.

Why “H”?

"H" is first and foremost about the Humanities, through the research carried out by CDH, the courses taught in the Social Sciences and Humanities (SHS) program developed with the University of Lausanne, and the courses we offer in Digital Humanities, including a Master's degree, a Minor, and a Doctoral program.

But "H" is also about Humanitarian Aid, with the development of solutions and systems such as those presented in the Digital Dilemmas exhibition on the digital risks to civilian populations and humanitarian aid in conflict zones, which has just opened at the EPFL Pavilions and was developed in coordination with the EssentialTech Center and the ICRC, in partnership with the Center for Digital Trust (C4DT).

"H" also references our mission, “Expanding Horizons”. To understand the phenomena with which they are confronted, students need to broaden their spatial and temporal perception. This embrace of broader perspectives enables them to develop concepts and ideas that are not biased by a single narrow point of view.

Lastly, and specifically for this first edition, H refers to two major cross-disciplinary transformations in the field of knowledge: Hyperscience and Hyperreality.

What are ‘Hyperscience’ and ‘Hyperreality’?

Transdisciplinarity is becoming the norm rather than the exception, recomposing a fluid and continuous knowledge landscape far removed from the old silos, forging a fertile ground for innovation and discovery. We call this “Hyperscience”. Over the next twenty years, a hyperscientific core of unified methods and knowledge will undoubtedly emerge, including the humanities and social sciences, and with research into the “science of science”. For several years now, EPFL has been at the forefront of the exploration of this great centrifugal movement, thanks to CDH’s “Enter the Hyperscientific” artist-in-residence program and EPFL’s multidisciplinary centers.

At the same time, we are entering the regime of “Hyperreality”, a territory in which the boundaries between the real and the virtual, documentary and fiction, are blurring. Hyperreality is characterized by the gradual obsolescence of truth and falsity as foundational concepts of discourse, a continuum between the natural and the artificial, a normalization of simulation as an experience of the world, and a new realm of creative expression, a canvas onto which the future can be painted. Through its research into very large simulations, mirror worlds, digital twins, deep fakes, and generative artificial intelligence, EPFL has for years been leading pioneering explorations into the heart of this maelstrom.

The generation born at the dawn of the year 2000 is the one that is experiencing these two convergences. If they are introduced to these new dynamics early enough, they will not only participate in the existing global game; they may well rewrite its rules.

What will be the next stage in the “H” strategy?

Students are always at the heart of what we do, and we want to amplify their talent by giving them the opportunity to make an impact while still at EPFL. We will begin a regular meeting to structure the community of those who want to join in these actions. We're thinking of calling it H-hour.