The future of Wikipedia in an era of AI

Maryana Iskander

Maryana Iskander, Chief Executive Officer of the Wikimedia Foundation, will speak on campus this month about the future of the world’s largest crowdsourced encyclopedia in an era of artificial intelligence. 

Iskander is the featured speaker at this year’s edition of the Peggy Downes Baskin Ethics Lecture,  a lively forum for the discussion and exploration of ethics-related challenges in human endeavors. The talk, entitled “Humans In The Loop: Wikipedia’s Future In The Age Of AI,” is scheduled for 6 p.m. Thursday, February 22 at the Cowell Hay Barn.  the event is co-sponsored by The Humanities Institute at the University of California, Santa Cruz. 

The nonprofit Wikimedia Foundation hosts Wikipedia, the free online encyclopedia, created, edited, and verified by volunteers around the world, known informally as Wikipedians. Wikipedia is one of the world’s most visited websites.

Iskander’s talk will explore the role that humans play in shaping the future of the internet, especially given the meteoric rise of generative artificial intelligence tools like ChatGPT. 

Wikipedia is tech-enabled, but with human beings at the helm of this massive enterprise. 

Each month, it receives more than 15 billion visits as people search for information online. Iskander will share more about how Wikipedia is doubling down on humans in a world of machine-generated content. This talk is a chance to learn more about how people should be preparing for the future of knowledge.

"Wikipedia is a unique example of how a human-led, technology-enabled platform can increase access, opportunity and knowledge,” Iskander said. “The use of AI is one of the biggest questions of our time, and I believe that disciplines like history, philosophy, linguistics, literature, art and others can add to our understanding of how technology is shaping the human experience, and how we can harness its potential. I look forward to using this talk to explore key lessons we have learned from Wikipedia about how to design a human-led approach to artificial intelligence."

The Ethics Lecture is made possible by the Peggy Downes Baskin Humanities Endowment for Interdisciplinary Ethics which enables the Humanities Division to promote a dialogue about ethics and ethics-related challenges in an interdisciplinary setting. 

The endowment was established in honor of Peggy Downes Baskin’s longtime interest in ethical issues across the academic spectrum.

Peggy Downes Baskin was an educator and scholar, advocate for women’s rights, and longtime philanthropic supporter of UC Santa Cruz. She died at her home surrounded by her family on Dec. 11, 2023. She was 93.

Baskin was renowned for her courage and generosity of spirit. She supported and advanced UC Santa Cruz in numerous ways. She shared her expertise with students as a senior lecturer in Feminist Studies and supported efforts to promote a diverse and inclusive expansion of opportunities in STEM fields and increase educational equity in the Monterey Bay region.

The lecture series, now in its 14th year, has drawn many luminaries to speak on and off campus in Santa Cruz, including Toni Morrison, Fania Davis, Jaron Lanier, UCSC alumnus Ezra Klein,  and the philosopher Agnes Callard. Last year’s speaker was Joy Connolly, president of the American Council Of Learned Societies. The renowned author Margaret Atwood delivered an online version of the lecture in 2020 in conjunction with The Deep Read Program. 

A reception will take place at the Hay Barn 5:30 p.m. Thursday, February 22, before the talk begins. 

The lecture will start promptly at 6 p.m.

The talk is free and open to the public but registration is strongly encouraged. Registration is also available for those who wish to see the virtual presentation of the lecture.