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Freedom & Loneliness: Are digital companions the future or the problem?

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Date and time
Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Join the conversation as Cambridge Forum investigates one of the most urgent issues facing American society – loneliness. We will attempt to unravel some of the causes of this pernicious condition and consider the ways to ward off, or at least alleviate, the curse of loneliness. With the help of four great minds from different disciplines, all of whom have written extensively on the theme of friendship or loneliness, we will consider why loneliness is a such a growing sociological phenomenon in our hi-tech, super-wired world. Neuroscientific research seems to suggest that our brains are indeed wired to connect, but they prefer human rather than digital interaction. So what constitutes true friendship and can a device ever substitute for the power of human touch? Our panel consists of Dr. Terry Freiberg, a social psychologist and author of Four Seasons of Loneliness; Dr. Amy Banks, a psychiatrist at Wellesley Centers for Women and author of Wired to Connect: The Surprising Link between Brain Science and Strong, Healthy Relationships; Professor Alex Pentland, who directs the MIT Connection Science and Human Dynamics Labs and co-author of a recent study in the journal PLOS , Are you Your Friends’ Friend? Poor Perception of Friendship Ties; and Professor Alexander Nehamas, Princeton philosopher and author of the book On Friendship. Image Credit: http://www.cambridgeforum.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/mobilephone.jpg

J. W. Freiberg holds a PhD from UCLA and a JD from Harvard Law School. He is the author of the critically acclaimed books Critical Sociology: European Perspectives and The French Press,as well as over thirty-five articles, book introductions, and other scholarly works on social psychology and legal issues. He is an active member of the Massachusetts state bar and the bar of the Supreme Court of the United States. He serves as a justice of the peace in Massachusetts, where he resides with his wife.
Amy Banks, M.D., has devoted her career to understanding the neurobiology of relationships. In addition to her work at the Jean Baker Miller Training Institute (JBMTI), she was an instructor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. She is the first person to bring relational-cultural theory together with neuroscience and is the foremost expert in the combined field. Amy is the creator of the C.A.R.E. Program, an easy to use, practical guide that helps clinicians and laypeople assess the quality of their relationships and strengthen their neural pathways for connection. Amy also has a private practice in Lexington, MA, that specializes in relational psychopharmacology and therapy for people who suffer from chronic disconnection. Amy co-edited The Complete Guide to Mental Health for Women, published by Beacon Press in 2004. She has written numerous articles on the treatment of childhood trauma including a popular manual, “PTSD, Relationships and Brain Chemistry," published as a project report at the Stone Center, Wellesley College. She was a co-investigator of the National Lesbian Family Study, a 20+ year longitudinal study (led by principal investigator Nanette Gartrell, M.D.) and has co-authored numerous journal articles describing the findings. Most recently, Amy has been exploring the field of energy psychology as a way to understand how and why connections heal.
Professor Alex "Sandy" Pentland helped to create and direct the Media Lab, where he directs the Human Dynamics research group and leads the Connection Science initiative. One of the most-cited scientists in the world, Forbes recently declared him one of the "7 most powerful data scientists in the world" along with Google founders and the Chief Technical Officer of the United States. He is a founding member of advisory boards for Google, AT&T, Nissan, and the UN Secretary General, and a serial entrepreneur who has co-founded more than a dozen companies including social enterprises such as the Data Transparency Lab, the Harvard-ODI-MIT DataPop Alliance, and the Institute for Data-Driven Design. Pentland and his students pioneered computational social science, organizational engineering, wearable computing (Google Glass), image understanding, and modern biometrics. His most recent books are Social Physics (Penguin Press, 2014) and Honest Signals (MIT Press, 2008). He received his BS in computer science from the University of Michigan, and his PhD in computer science, psychology, and AI from MIT. Pentland is a member of the US National Academy of Engineering, a leader within the World Economic Forum, and has received numerous awards and prizes including the McKinsey Award from Harvard Business Review, the 40th Anniversary of the Internet from DARPA, and the Brandeis Award for work in privacy.
Ph.D., Princeton,1971. Joined the faculty in 1990. He is also Professor of the Humanities and of Comparative Literature. His interests include Greek philosophy, philosophy of art, European philosophy and literary theory.