Guest Scholar Program

The Aspen Institute Communications and Society Guest Scholar Program is a scholarship initiative meant to give students of color the opportunity to foster their professional and academic career in the field of media and technology policy. The program first began in 2001. Each year doctoral (or other advanced graduate program) students of color are invited to apply for a Guest Scholarship to attend the annual Aspen Institute Conference on Communications Policy that takes place at the Aspen Meadows Conference Center in Aspen, Colorado or the annual Roundtable on Artificial Intelligence in Santa Barbara, CA. As a Guest Scholar, students are full participants in roundtable discussions. Scholars have the opportunity to gain a better understanding of competing tensions on important technology issues and get the opportunity to gain a network of professional colleagues.

This year, the program is pleased to extend the Guest Scholarship to an individual interested in attending the 2020 Roundtable on Artificial Intelligence in Santa Barbara, CA.

Artificial Intimacy

January 12-14, 2020

For all of the gains that artificial intelligent (AI) systems allow, society is only now beginning to orient itself to the tremendous ethical and political issues emerging as a result of AI’s prevalence in our society. For example, recent critiques of facial recognition software bring to light issues of algorithmic bias, data irregularities, human rights violations, and government surveillance. In response, various principles and values-based governance models are furiously being developed to direct the future of AI design.

But, science and technology will likely continue to leapfrog the political process. Already adding to this mix is a new dimension of issues around the ethical and human psychological impact of simulated emotional responses by robots and other AI systems.

To address this emerging issue, Roundtable participants will explore the intersection of human intimacy and artificial intelligence, investigating how different human-machine relationships may affect the development of human behavior and emotions. Questions that may arise include:

  • what opportunities and costs does an “emotional” human-machine relationship afford?
  • in what ways must we critically examine the presentation or simulation of emotion by an artificial system? To what extent is a machine’s emotional expression equivalent to a human’s understanding of emotion? What are the implications of this?; and,
  • what safeguards, if any, should be in place to protect against the potential for harm?

The goal of the roundtable is to develop a shared language and understanding among participants regarding the issue of artificial intimacy and to identify what type of leadership is most needed in this space.


The Guest Scholar’s travel and accommodations will be paid for by the Communications and Society Program. Scholars will attend all conference sessions as a full participant in the discussion. She or he will be expected to read the pre-conference materials provided. The scholar will also be asked to write a blog for the Communications and Society Program on a topic of interest after the Roundtable.


The Guest Scholar should be a U.S. resident and a minority student, based on the definition of minority created by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission: African American, Hispanic, Asian, Pacific Islander, American Indian, or Alaskan Native.

  • Currently enrolled in a Ph.D. or other advanced graduate program at an accredited college or university; and have attained a cumulative GPA of 3.3 on a 4.0 scale (un-weighted).
  • The student should have a clearly defined interest in the topic matter as evidenced by published papers, a major research project, or dissertation on the conference topic.
    • Specific interest(s) in machine learning, natural language processing, neural networks, cognitive computing, behavioral sciences and medicine are welcomed.
    • The student must also demonstrate an interest in the impact of technology on social issues. Candidates with experience in technology policy are highly encouraged to apply.
  • Applicants must provide a statement of interest.
  • Applicants must provide one reference (name, title, phone number, and email).
  • Applicants must provide an unofficial copy of transcripts from currently enrolled university.
  • Applicants must commit to attending the entire conference.


Monday, November 18, 2019




If you have any questions, please contact Dominique Harrison by email at

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