Jaipur Literature Festival 2021

Shannon Vallor, Baille Gifford Chair in the Ethics of Data Science and Artificial Intelligence at the Edinburgh Futures Institute, and Steve Brusatte, Palaeontologist in the School of Geosciences, participate in world’s largest free literary festival.

By Lorna Bruce

The Jaipur Literature Festival (JLF) 2021 is the 14th edition of the world’s largest free literary festival, dubbed the ‘greatest literary show on Earth’.

Long-standing connections to Edinburgh

JLF was started in 2006 by Faith and the late John Singh. John and Faith travelled to the Edinburgh Festivals in 1999, wanting to replicate the model in Jaipur and thus set up the Jaipur Heritage International Festival which featured a small literature segment in 2006. By 2008, this segment evolved into a standalone literature festival called the Jaipur Literature Festival, the first of its kind in India.

Sanjoy Roy, Manging Director of Teamwork Arts and Festival Producer, is also no stranger to Edinburgh, bringing several Indian productions to the Edinburgh Festivals. JLF has featured several writers from Edinburgh through the years – Alexander McCall Smith, Ian Rankin, Irvine Welsh and others, and most recently in 2020, Dr Talat Ahmed, Senior Lecturer in South Asian History. The festival boasts having more University faculty from the world’s leading institutions than anywhere else over the course of the event.

"It was a lot of fun to take part in this year's online-only version of the Jaipur Literature Festival. I know there has been a long-term connection between Edinburgh, the city and the university, and the festival. It really is a remarkable gathering of some of the world's most interesting writers and thinkers, and to be included in that group is really affirming."

Steve Brusatte, Palaeontologist in the School of Geosciences

Embracing new digital paradigms

Due to Covid-19 restrictions, this year the festival will take place online with a specially curated festival experience extending from 19-28 February. The live virtual sessions will showcase a plethora of themes curated specially for audiences across the world and bring together a diverse mix of the world’s greatest writers, thinkers, humanitarians, politicians, business leaders, sports people and entertainers to engage in thoughtful debate and dialogue.

This year, the impressive line-up includes Shannon Vallor, Baille Gifford Chair in the Ethics of Data Science and Artificial Intelligence at the Edinburgh Futures Institute, and Steve Brusatte, Palaeontologist in the School of Geosciences.

Steve’s session is in collaboration with Lisa Randell entitled: The Rise and Fall of Dinosaurs and is in conversation with Pranay Lal.

Steve’s book is a stunning narrative covering more than 200 million years. We asked Steve more about his involvement in this year’s festival:

“I was able to talk about my recent book The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs, and the story of dinosaur evolution that I present in the book. But it was more than that. I’ve presented the book at various festivals over the last few years, but this one was particularly fun because I got to do an event with Professor Lisa Randall of Harvard. She wrote a book Dark Matter and the Dinosaurs, a few years back, which told the story of dark matter, through the lens of the very intriguing mystery of why the dinosaurs died. It was an asteroid, we’re pretty sure, and she explores where that asteroid came from.”

“Being able to merge palaeontology with cosmology and particle physics was exhilarating. I felt like we were breezing through the mysteries of the universe, so no surprise that the 40 minutes came and went at hyper speed, like the fabric of time was being bent, and space too, seeing as I was joining from Edinburgh, Lisa from Massachusetts, and our festival hosts from India.”

You can watch Steve delve into the diverse world of dinosaurs and their ongoing legacy on 20 February at 11am IST (5.30am GMT).

Shannon’s session is entitled Technology and Change: Vision 2021

Shannon is the author of the book Technology and the Virtues: A Philosophical Guide to a Future Worth Wanting. Her work explores the philosophy and ethics of emerging science and technologies.

Our disruptive and dysfunctional times have also led to an acceleration in technologies. A new vision is emerging which takes in several leaps in human learning and opens new frontiers across disciplines. These developments are reshaping our habits, environment and our overall way of life while simultaneously opening us up to new risks within the paradox of a constantly contracting and expanding world.

We asked Shannon more about her involvement in this year’s festival: “I was asked to join the panel on ‘Technology and Change’ and I’m excited to discuss the powerful yet increasingly contested role that new technologies play in shaping the patterns and institutions of human life, regionally and globally.”

“The Jaipur Literature Festival is an ideal venue to frame this conversation in a broader and more vital cultural context, one that goes beyond the parochial visions of Silicon Valley futurists and the powers of the Global North. What futures will we create with new technologies like artificial intelligence, and who gets to be included in the ‘we’ that chooses that future? Who holds the power today to shape tomorrow? And how can ‘techno social change’ be reliably aligned with meaningful notions of human progress, social justice and sustainable flourishing, since change by itself does not entail improvement or a positive future?”

You can watch Shannon’s session on 25 February at 11.30am IST (6am GMT)

Find out more about the Jaipur Literature Festival