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Tanner Lecture: AI and Human Values with Seth Lazar

The Tanner Lectures were established by the late American scholar, industrialist and philanthropist Obert Clark Tanner. The purpose of the lectures is to advance and reflect upon scholarly and scientific learning relating to human values. This intention embraces the entire range of values pertinent to the human condition, interest, behavior and aspiration. Stanford is proud to be one of the nine distinguished universities to host the Tanner Lectures. The Tanner lectureships, which are comprised of annual lectures and seminars, are held at Cambridge, Harvard, Michigan, Oxford, Princeton, Yale, Stanford, the University of California and the University of Utah.

The 2023 Tanner Lecture will be given by Seth Lazar, Professor of Philosophy at the Australian National University, an Australian Research Council (ARC) Future Fellow, and a Distinguished Research Fellow of the University of Oxford Institute for Ethics in AI. 

This event is co-hosted by The McCoy Family Center for Ethics in Society

Event Details

A century ago, John Dewey observed that '[s]team and electricity have done more to alter the conditions under which [people] associate together than all the agencies which affected human relationships before our time'. In the last few decades, computing technologies have had a similar effect. Political philosophy's central task is to help us decide how to live together by analysing our social relations, diagnosing their failings, and articulating ideals to guide their revision. But these profound social changes have left scarcely a dent in the model of social relations that analytical political philosophers assume. These lectures make a start at fixing that mistake. Lecture 1 introduces the theoretical resources necessary for this project; Lecture 2 applies those resources to the case of communication in the digital public sphere.


  • Speaker: Seth Lazar, Professor, College of Arts and Social Sciences, The Australian National University, Canberra

    Discussant: Marion Fourcade, Professor, Department of Sociology, University of California-Berkeley

    Lecture 1 argues that we are increasingly connected to one another by algorithmic intermediaries—sociotechnical systems such as centralised privately- and publicly-controlled digital platforms and competing decentralised architectures. I call this network of algorithmically-mediated social relations the 'Algorithmic City'. I analyse the intermediary power that governs the Algorithmic City, and contrast it with the extrinsic power exemplified by the state in the physical city. Extrinsic power governs social relations the way a river's banks govern the water; intermediary power operates more like the bonds holding the water molecules together. By constituting the relationships that they mediate, algorithmic intermediaries enable some to exercise power over others, to shape power relations between mediatees, and—over time—to reshape society at large. Sometimes new power relations should simply be eliminated, but algorithmic intermediaries, if governed appropriately, could be crucial to realising egalitarian social relations and collective self-determination in the information age. We must therefore determine whether and how algorithmic intermediary power can be exercised permissibly. I introduce a framework for justifying this power, and show how algorithmic governance raises new challenges for political philosophy concerning the justification of authority, the foundations of procedural legitimacy, and the possibility of justificatory neutrality. 

  • Speaker: Seth Lazar, Professor, College of Arts and Social Sciences, The Australian National University, Canberra

    Discussant: Arvind Narayanan, Professor of Computer Science, Princeton

    Algorithmic intermediaries govern the digital public sphere through their architectures, amplification algorithms, and moderation practices. In doing so, they shape public communication and distribute attention in ways that were previously infeasible with such subtlety, speed, and scale. From misinformation and affective polarisation to hate speech and radicalisation, the many pathologies of the digital public sphere attest that they could do so better. But what ideals should they aim at? Political philosophy should be able to help, but existing theories typically assume that a healthy public sphere will spontaneously emerge if only we get the boundaries of free expression right. They offer little guidance on how to intentionally constitute the digital public sphere. In addition to these theories focused on expression, we need a further theory of communicative justice, targeted specifically at the algorithmic intermediaries that shape communication and distribute attention. This lecture argues that political philosophy urgently owes an account of how to govern communication in the digital public sphere, and introduces and defends a democratic egalitarian theory of communicative justice.  

  • Speaker: Seth Lazar, Professor, College of Arts and Social Sciences, The Australian National University, Canberra


    Joshua Cohen, Faculty, Apple University; Distinguished Senior Fellow, University of California, Berkeley

    Renée Jorgensen, Assistant Professor, Department of Philosophy, University of Michigan 


Spektor profile photo

Seth Lazar

Professor, College of Arts and Social Sciences, The Australian National University, Canberra



Joshua Cohen

Faculty, Apple University; Distinguished Senior Fellow, University of California, Berkeley

Marion Fourcade

Marion Fourcade

Professor, Sociology Department, University of California, Berkeley


Renée Jorgensen

Assistant Professor, Department of Philosophy, University of Michigan