A conference on cyber warfare and artificial intelligence to be hosted at Yale this Friday and Saturday expanded its initial 15-person roster of speakers to include two women after taking flak for a roster that included only white male speakers.
After Inside Higher Education published an article noting the all-male roster on Tuesday, the Johnson Center for the Study of American Diplomacy released an updated agenda that included two female speakers — Joan Feigenbaum, the former chair of Yale’s computer science department, and Susan Landau, a Bridge Professor in Cybersecurity at Tufts University. The conference, titled “The Kissinger Conference: Understanding Cyberwarfare and Artificial Intelligence,” will be hosted by the Johnson Center, which annually convenes a conference featuring former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger that discusses “critical issues in international affairs,” according to the event’s website.
University spokesman Tom Conroy said that the annual Johnson conference is “always a work in progress,” and that the schedule frequently changes in the lead-up to the event.
“For this year’s conference, once the preliminary agenda was fully integrated, reviewed and shared with students, everyone wholeheartedly agreed that greater inclusion and technical expertise would strengthen the program,” Conroy said. “The added participants are serious scholars invited entirely in their own right, who already were invited to portions of this conference.”
Last year’s Johnson Center conference, which focused on World War I, had five female panelists, out of a total of 17 speakers.
A number of prominent political and industry leaders are scheduled to speak at the event, including former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, Alphabet Inc. CEO Eric Schmidt, former Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter ’76, University President Peter Salovey and former Secretary of State John Kerry ’66 , who is currently a visiting professor at Yale.
The backlash to the conference’s initial schedule began early this week. Graham Webster, a law student, tweeted on Monday that the conference’s agenda listed only 15 speakers, all of whom were men. He derided the event as a “manference,” noting that the conference covers issues — cybersecurity and artificial intelligence — in which “women and people of color do a great deal of world-leading work.”
The squabble comes several weeks after a Stanford University history conference came under fire for featuring 30 white male academics on its speaker roster. The organizer of the event, the conservative academic Niall Ferguson, acknowledged to The New York Times that the event “was too white and too male.”
Students interviewed about the conference said they are disappointed that the original schedule did not include women or people of color.
“It’s incredible that an institution that claims to promote diversity would fail to do so for an event like this,” said Jesse Opoku ’18, a global affairs major. “Moreover, how are any women at Yale who are studying artificial intelligence going to feel about the work they do when they see their peers go unrecognized by an institution like Yale?”
Elisabeth Siegel ’20, another global affairs major, said Yale should always keep diversity in mind when planning events like the cybersecurity conference. She noted, however, that the societal problems that create hurdles for women and people of color from early education to their professional careers are not unique to the Jackson Institute.
A number of prominent Yale faculty study cybersecurity and artificial intelligence, including law professor Oona Hathaway, director of the Yale Cyber Leadership Forum, and Law School lecturer Rebecca Crootof, who is the executive director of the Information Society Project and researches autonomous weapons system. The Yale Cyber Leadership Forum is also hosting a conference this weekend titled “Bridging the Divide: Law, Technology, and Business of Cybersecurity.” Of the 18 speakers scheduled to appear at that event, seven are women.
Some conservative Yalies interviewed by the News sympathised with the concerns of the event’s critics. Madeline Fortier ’19, president of the Buckley Program, said she and the Buckley Program fully support showcasing a diverse range of voices, and that she was pleased to see the guest list expand on Tuesday to feature a “wider range of voices” on the topic.
Other conservatives on campus were more dismissive of the criticism of the event. Charles Hill, a Yale professor and former advisor to Henry Kissinger and Ronald Reagan, described criticism related to gender and racial diversity as the “gotcha game of the moment.”
English professor David Bromwich said that “variety of thought seems as important as variety of gender” and took aim at Kissinger’s scheduled appearance.
“Does the roster contain any notable opponents of the Vietnam War? Anyone who has criticized Kissinger for the Christmas bombing of Hanoi or the bombing of Cambodia and the accompanying ‘incursion,’ which precipitated the fall of Prince Sihanouk and the rise of the murderous Khmer Rouge?” Bromwich said. “Does it include a single published critic of the overthrow of Salvador Allende?”
Kissinger could not be reached for comment on Tuesday.
The Johnson Center, established seven years ago, held its first conference, titled “Sino-American Relations in 2022: The Future of the International System,” in 2012.
Britton O’Daly | firstname.lastname@example.org
Correction, April 4: A previous version of this article described Joan Feigenbaum as the chair of Yale’s computer science department. In fact, she is the former chair.