Elitism, Artificial Intelligence, and Rawls’ Theory of Justice

On May 10, 2024, at the Induction Program for new members of Phi Beta Kappa at the University of Illinois, Chapter Secretary Mark Hasegawa-Johnson gave the following address to new members.

In my day job, I teach artificial intelligence.  Every spring, I teach a course called “Artificial Intelligence” to about 500 students from across the university.  One of the questions my students are asked to think about is this: Does AI increase income inequality, and if so, is that a good thing or a bad thing?  AI has produced a few of the most dramatic case studies in income inequality: the tech billionaires and tech bros, giant egos with giant salaries.  On the other hand, it’s possible for AI to reduce income inequality by giving new capabilities to small businesses.  Consider Google translate.  In 2006, Google made automatic machine translation available for free on the internet. Between 2006 and 2012, the number of people employed as foreign language translators or interpreters in the U.S. increased by 50%, from 41k to 64k.  What seems to have happened is that many companies saw the availability of Google translate as an opportunity to expand their international collaborations.  Those international collaborations led to increased demand for translators.  At the same time, human translators became much more efficient, because they could use Google translate to create rough drafts, which they would then edit; human translators could therefore earn a lot more than was previously possible, because they could take more jobs.  Thus, Google translate is a great example of an AI technology that created jobs by partnering with human translators, to make them more efficient, thereby creating new opportunities that people had not previously imagined. The recent introduction of generative AI has not gone so well. In 2022, several companies simultaneously released tool for web designers that permitted them to type in a description of the image they wanted, and receive a selection of images meeting the specified criterion, without any need to hire an artist.  Artists, naturally, feared that this tool would put them out of work.  In January 2023, artists sued some of the companies involved for $2 trillion, and although most of the lawsuit has been dismissed, at least $300 million is still at risk.  Imagine what would have happened if, instead of threatening to put artists out of work, the generative AI companies had promoted their new tools as productivity tools for artists, in the same way that Google Translate is a productivity tool for translators: imagine if they had said, “Look, you can create ten drafts for your new commission in ten seconds, then choose one, and edit it to make a truly human-created original work of art in less than half the time previously required” — the result would have been more people making a living as artists, rather than less. In other words, imagine how much better off the generative AI companies could have made their own economic position, and simultaneously the economic positions of the artists that they depend on, if those companies employed just a tiny amount of natural intelligence to complement all of their artificial intelligence.

Inequality is an important topic for a Phi Beta Kappa commencement because Phi Beta Kappa is a selective organization.  Phi Beta Kappa was founded at the Raleigh Tavern at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia on December 5, 1776.  The idea was to seal off a room in the tavern, so that very smart students could share their crazy ideas about philosophy with one another, secure in the knowledge that the only people attacking their ideas would be other students equally committed to free and open speculation.  As the 1779 induction ceremony put it: “here, too, you are to indulge in matters of speculation that freedom of inquiry which ever dispels the clouds of falsehood by the radiant sunshine of truth.”  In order to protect this atmosphere of fearless discussion, the early chapters took secrecy very seriously: they had a secret handshake, and a secret initiation ritual, and a secret motto.  All of those things are no longer secret.  Everyone in the room will be taught the handshake when you receive your certificates later.  The motto, formerly secret and now quite open, is Philosophia Viou Kuvernetes: the Love of Wisdom is the Guide to Life.

                  The ritual of Phi Beta Kappa was not the most famous document written by a Virginian in 1776.  In July of 1776, Thomas Jefferson published the Declaration of Independence, which declared that “All men are created equal.” He managed to convince the citizens of Virginia, and the other colonies, of two amazing things: first, that they had always believed that all men are created equal, and second, that their belief in this axiom was so strong that it was worth fighting a war.  In this context, you might be wondering: What kind of crazy mixed-up student hears the words “All men are created equal,” and responds by creating a secret society for very smart people?

                  The best answer to that question, I think, was not written until 1971. 1971 is the year in which John Rawls published the following thought experiment: Suppose that, before you were born, you were permitted to choose the social system into which you would be born, but that you were not permitted to choose your own position in that system.  You are not allowed to know how intelligent you will be, or how strong, or how physically attractive, or how rich, or how good your family connections will be. Rawls proposed that, if you don’t know whether you will be on the top or on the bottom, you would be unwilling to permit very much inequality in society.  In fact, he claimed, you would never tolerate inequality of any kind unless, for some reason, the happiness of the least fortunate members of society can be increased by permitting inequality.  Under Rawls’ theory of justice, the fact that everyone in this room tonight is brilliant does not, by itself, justify money, happiness, or high social status. Rather, Rawls proposed, your brilliance gives you the chance to find ways to deserve money, happiness, and high social status, by finding some type of employment that will make even the least fortunate people in our society better off than they would have been if you had not been born.

                  If that sounds like a rather demanding criterion, it’s because it is. We’re not just asking you to be brilliant: We’re asking you to be brilliant in ways that will make people happy.  The first idea that comes into your head might not work, nor the second, nor the third. The founders of Phi Beta Kappa proposed that, if you want to figure out how to improve society, the best way to do it is by discussing your ideas in an atmosphere of “freedom of inquiry which ever dispels the clouds of falsehood by the radiant sunshine of truth.”  The love of wisdom, they proposed, is a very practical thing.  Welcome to Phi Beta Kappa, in which the Love of Wisdom is the Guide to Life.

Welcome New 2024 Members of Phi Beta Kappa!

Please join the members of Phi Beta Kappa at the University of Illinois in welcoming their new members:

  • Grace Elizabeth Anelli, English
  • Rachel Elizabeth Antman, Psychology
  • Shivang Bhaskar, Molecular and Cellular Biology
  • Siddhartha Bhushan, Computer Science and Linguistics
  • Nicholas Evan Brandon, History
  • Jayna Lee Burger, Kinesiology
  • Cheyanne F. Burgher, Psychology
  • Joseph A. Caruana, Brain and Cognitive Science
  • Meghan Cavolick, History
  • Justin Cheon, English
  • Emily Jean Cohen, Statistics
  • Garrett Christopher Credi, Mathematics
  • Neel Varun Donthamsetti, Molecular and Cellular Biology
  • David Jonathan Dutton, Molecular and Cellular Biology
  • Nathaniel Earl Dyer, Computer Science and Linguistics
  • Kayleigh Elizabeth Excell, Engineering Physics
  • Dalya Bahaa Fadl-Alla, Molecular and Cellular Biology
  • Jacob Simon Faibishenko, Psychology
  • Jennifer Lynn Garwacki, Political Science
  • Alexandra Galabinova Gergova, English
  • Christopher Thomas Gimbel, History
  • Joseph Steven Hardy, Molecular and Cellular Biology
  • Wendy Haro, Psychology
  • Erin Mary Haslett, Political Science
  • Yifan He, Economics
  • Maura Kathleen Heneghan, Political Science
  • Margaret Mary Holohan, History
  • Jacqueline Hsu, Psychology
  • Connor Mitchell Hults, Psychology
  • Natalie Jakubezak, Psychology
  • Haley Jin, History
  • Kara Elizabeth Johnson, Psychology
  • Vindhya Rao Kalipi, Political Science
  • Malcolm Kaplan, Computer Science and Anthropology
  • Christine Jiwoo Kim, History
  • Healey J. Kogan, Engineering Physics
  • Sumeet Santosh Kulkarni, Mathematics and Computer Science
  • Abigail Lauren Lachman, Global Studies
  • Bethany Lee, English
  • Paul Sang Lee, Classics
  • Nathan Ben Lickerman, Molecular and Cellular Biology
  • Yidi Liu, Physics
  • Meghan Grace McCann, Biochemistry
  • Emma Mueller, Psychology
  • Rachel Nicole Nieder, Psychology
  • Hunter Barron Palandri, Economics
  • Akhil Patel, Molecular and Cellular Biology
  • Kaushik Pulgari, Computer Science and Economics
  • Matthew Richard Rilloraza, Engineering Physics
  • Michaella P. Rosenow, Psychology
  • Elisabeth Noelle Faith Sandoval, Political Science
  • Elizabeth Scherschel, Classics
  • Aria Shetty, Psychology
  • Alexa Lauren Slavik, Communication
  • John Hunn Smith, Mathematics
  • Sage Sorensen, English
  • Tallulah Jane Trezevant, Classics
  • Katarina Vrtikapa, Molecular and Cellular Biology
  • Adithya Sridhar Vuruputoor, Economics
  • Isabella Nicole Walli, Psychology
  • Roger Wang, Statistics and Computer Science
  • Ruoyang Wang, Molecular and Cellular Biology
  • Victor Alexander Woszczak, English
  • Justin Michael Wytmar, History
  • Yifan Xiong, Statistics
  • Yiyang Xiong, Statistics
  • Brandon Zhang, Statistics and Computer Science
  • Deyu Zhang, Economics and Quantitative Economics

Welcome to new Keyholders, Spring 2022

Regular Members of Phi Beta Kappa University of Illinois welcomed 65 new keyholders on May 13, 2022.

  • Sufyan Mizra Baig, Chemistry;
  • Malika Basu, Integrative Biology & Chemistry;
  • Amit Blu, Psychology;
  • Susannah Browning, Econometrics and Quantitative Economics;
  • Catherine Cabrera, Molecular and Cellular Biology;
  • Hannah Elizabeth Caraway, Integrative Biology;
  • Victoria Ann Chu, Molecular and Cellular Biology & Psychology
  • Kolten Conklen, Global Studies & Easy Asian Languages
  • William Edward Crimmins, History
  • Anooha Dasari, Psychology
  • Avni Utpal Dave, Psychology
  • Lauren Grace Dubravec, English & Global Studies
  • Grace J. Duggan, Psychology
  • Andrew Gao Feng, Chemistry
  • Jessica Fuller, Art History & Classics
  • Patrick Thomas Gerkin, Economics & Finance
  • Gavin Alexander Hage, Molecular and Cellular Biology
  • Jonathan Hartanto, Chemical Engineering
  • Stephania Izaguirre, Psychology & Sociology
  • Matthew Stephan Jalnos, Actuarial Science & Economics
  • Julia Mary Johnson, Clinical/Community Psychology & Communication
  • Simon Jacob Kaplan, Comparative and World Literature & Classics
  • Amelia Ann Kolany, Spanish
  • Maya Korol, Psychology & Political Science
  • Laura Krasa, Integrative Biology
  • Matthew Michael Krauter, Political Science
  • Melody Leung, Psychology & Social Psychology
  • Olivia Gabriela Luca, Psychology & Spanish
  • Kathleen S. Manzke, Psychology & Spanish
  • Michael Tienrnan McHenry, Molecular and Cellular Biology
  • Megi Mecolli, English
  • Isabella Medina, Global Studies
  • Parker Il-Hwan Meyer, Molecular and Cellular Biology
  • Grace Elisabeth Mies, Economics
  • Natasha Najam, Psychology
  • Abhinav Reddy Nandigala, Chemical Engineering
  • Annabella Nelson, Anthropology
  • Olivia Offer, Psychology & Social Work
  • Adetayo Oriade, Psychology
  • Gianna Padula, Political Science
  • Cheyenne Summer Petersen, Psychology
  • Divya Rea, Atmospheric Science
  • Matthew Bishop Reeder, Comparative Literature & Music
  • Alexis Rhoades, Integrative Biology
  • Matthew Patrick Rohan, History & Cognitive Psychology
  • Diana Carolina Roman, Economics & Latina/Latino Studies
  • Brooke Jordyn Slavik, Communication
  • Jason Charles Smith, History & Cognitive Psychology
  • Lauryn Smith, Psychology & Creative Writing
  • Abraham Sun, Statistics
  • Aubrey Vernon, Psychology
  • Ryan Vetticad, Political Science International Relations
  • Jonathan Wallk, Economics
  • Ethan Walter, English
  • Weian Yin, Mathematics & Statistics
  • Alexander Zhengde Wang, Molecular and Cellular Biology & Chemistry
  • Ming Wang, Math and Computer Science & Economics
  • Quentin Wetzel, Mathematics & Statistics
  • Jacob Cole Wolf, Chemistry
  • Alexander James Youtsey, Computer Science + Economics
  • Andrew Jiaxing Zhang, Molecular and Cellular Biology
  • Jiaxuan Zhang, Physics & Mathematics
  • Wenyi Zhang, Statistics
  • Chenyu Zhao, Computer Science + Linguistics

Welcome New Keyholders, Spring 2021!

The regular members of Phi Beta Kappa at the University of Illinois welcomed the following 61 new keyholders in a welcome ceremony at the Spurlock Museum.


Ashley Elizabeth Akrami, Molecular and Cellular Biology;
Jeremy Bao, Statistics and Computer Science;
Tyeese Elizabeth Braslavsky, Psychology;
Diana Elizabeth Brown, Molecular and Cellular Biology;
Zachary Chalmers, Atmospheric Sciences;
Zhangyan Chen, Integrative Biology;
Jeremy Fuyang Cheng, Statistics;
Grace Yo-Mei Chiou, Engineering Physics;
Eva Grace Cornman, Molecular and Cellular Biology: Honors;
Erika Morgan Dettlo, Integrative Biology;
William E. Dow, History;
Chime Ezenekwe, Molecular and Cellular Biology;
Grace Marie Finnell-Gudwien, Earth, Society, and Environmental Sustainability;
Ethan Frobish, English;
Zachary David Furlin, History;
Brandon Antonio Garcia, Atmospheric Science;
Abigail Tyrella Hack, Global Studies;
Jessica K. Homan, Communications;
Matthew Hoyle, Statistics;
Jiachen Yu, Psychology;
Marlena Johnson, Classics;
Ryan Schweizer Johnson, Mathematics and Computer Science;
Allison Johnston, Creative Writing;
Megan Kimberly Kalinowski, Kinesiology;
Madilyn Michelle Keller, Communication;
Kasey Bo-min Kim, Psychology (Developmental);
Jessica Kathleen Kowalski, Psychology;
Niraj Vinayak Lawande, Molecular and Cellular Biology;
Alice Lee, Political Science;
Jiazhen Li, Economics;
Ziyang Liu, Mathematics; Statistics;
Yirui Luo, Mathematics;
Kassidy Elizabeth Mahoney, History;
Sarah Mansfield, Statistics;
Riley Masterson, Global Studies;
Ava Nicole Mazzei, Psychology;
Allison McGrath, Integrative Biology;
Quarrie L L McGuire, Mathematics & Computer Science;
Rony Midya, Computer Science;
Ali Mirza, Political Science;
Christopher W. Mitchell, Political Science;
Ivie Osagiede, Molecular and Cellular Biology;
Joseph Park, Economics;
Sarah Ramp, Psychology;
Ross Stone, Political Science;
Jordan Schnack, Clinical Psychology;
Amanda Sophie Shane, English;
Hao Shen, Religion;
Andrew David Sima, Earth, Society, and Environmental Sustainability;
Hannah Shields Thompson, Bioengineering;
Brian Edward Tibble, Molecular and Cellular Biology, Honors Concentration;
Katelyn Toohill, Molecular and Cellular Biology;
Gabrielle Elena Toreja, Integrative Biology;
Ana Rose Tziortzis, Psychology;
Taylor Ann Marie Vidmar, Creative Writing;
Dianzhuo Wang, Physics;
Julia Celeste Eng Wapner, Statistics;
Matthew Wattelet, Molecular and Cellular Biology;
Patrick J Weber, History;
Yao Xiao, Actuarial Science;
Shuai Yu, Chemical Engineering

Welcome new Keyholders, 2020!

Please join us in welcoming 61 new members of Phi Beta Kappa!

  • Ashley Elizabeth Akrami, Molecular and Cellular Biology
  • Jeremy Bao, Statistics and Computer Science
  • Tyeese Elizabeth Braslavsky, Psychology
  • Diana Elizabeth Brown, Molecular and Cellular Biology
  • Zachary Chalmers, Atmospheric Sciences
  • Zhangyan Chen, Integrative Biology
  • Jeremy Fuyang Cheng, Statistics
  • Grace Yo-Mei Chiou, Engineering Physics
  • Eva Grace Cornman, Molecular and Cellular Biology: Honors
  • Erika Morgan Dettlo, Integrative Biology
  • William E. Dow, History
  • Chime Ezenekwe, Molecular and Cellular Biology
  • Grace Marie Finnell-Gudwien, Earth, Society, and Environmental Sustainability
  • Ethan Frobish, English Zachary
  • David Furlin, History Brandon
  • Antonio Garcia, Atmospheric Science
  • Abigail Tyrella Hack, Global Studies
  • Jessica K. Homan, Communications
  • Matthew Hoyle, Statistics
  • Jiachen Yu, Psychology
  • Marlena Johnson, Classics
  • Ryan Schweizer Johnson, Mathematics and Computer Science
  • Allison Johnston, Creative Writing
  • Megan Kimberly Kalinowski, Kinesiology
  • Madilyn Michelle Keller, Communication
  • Kasey Bo-min Kim, Psychology (Developmental)
  • Jessica Kathleen Kowalski, Psychology
  • Niraj Vinayak Lawande, Molecular and Cellular Biology
  • Alice Lee, Political Science Jiazhen Li, Economics
  • Ziyang Liu, Mathematics; Statistics
  • Yirui Luo, Mathematics Kassidy
  • Elizabeth Mahoney, History
  • Sarah Mansfield, Statistics
  • Riley Masterson, Global Studies
  • Ava Nicole Mazzei, Psychology
  • Allison McGrath, Integrative Biology
  • Quarrie L L McGuire, Mathematics & Computer Science
  • Rony Midya, Computer Science
  • Ali Mirza, Political Science
  • Christopher W. Mitchell, Political Science
  • Ivie Osagiede, Molecular and Cellular Biology
  • Joseph Park, Economics Sarah Ramp, Psychology
  • Ross Stone, Political Science
  • Jordan Schnack, Clinical Psychology
  • Amanda Sophie Shane, English
  • Hao Shen, Religion Andrew
  • David Sima, Earth, Society, and Environmental Sustainability
  • Hannah Shields Thompson, Bioengineering
  • Brian Edward Tibble, Molecular and Cellular Biology, Honors Concentration
  • Katelyn Toohill, Molecular and Cellular Biology
  • Gabrielle Elena Toreja, Integrative Biology
  • Ana Rose Tziortzis, Psychology Taylor
  • Ann Marie Vidmar, Creative Writing
  • Dianzhuo Wang, Physics
  • Julia Celeste Eng Wapner, Statistics
  • Matthew Wattelet, Molecular and Cellular Biology
  • Patrick J Weber, History
  • Yao Xiao, Actuarial Science
  • Shuai Yu, Chemical Engineering

Welcome New Keyholders, 2019!

Please join us in welcoming 2019’s new members of Phi Beta Kappa at the University of Illinois!

  • Ali Akhtar, Psychology; Philosophy
  • Fernando Adrian Arias, Political Science; Economics
  • Rose Aubery, Integrative Biology; Creative Writing
  • Hallie Frances Aylesworth, Psychology; Political Science
  • Hayley Elizabeth Ban, Integrative Biology; French
  • Brooke Nicole Beckmann, Communication; English
  • Alison Christine Borsotti, Molecular and Cellular Biology
  • Emily Brown, Teaching of Spanish
  • Thomas Stephen Brundage, Molecular and Cellular Biology
  • Taylor Brust, Psychology
  • Adam Robert Camp, Geography GIS; Political Science
  • Elena Mary Cannova, Psychology
  • Alexandra Nicole Carter, Psychology
  • Laurel Susan Chamberlin, Computer Science + Communication
  • Shivang Sharad Chaudhary, Molecular and Cellular Biology
  • Kevin Ka Ngok Cheng, Chemistry; Economics
  • Kristy Chin, Molecular and Cellular Biology
  • Tanner Alan Corum, Actuarial Science
  • Christopher Dennis, Chemistry
  • Sarah Katherine Derango, Actuarial Science; Spanish
  • Camille Catherine Farruggio, French Studies; Engineering Physics
  • Abigael Quinn Fogarty, Global Studies
  • Derick Fong, Philosophy; Political Science; Classics
  • Angela Fu, Economics; Creative Writing
  • Xin Gao, Mathematics; Computer Science
  • Aaron Jeffrey Goffinet, Molecular and Cellular Biology
  • Victoria Page Goldman, Developmental Psychology
  • Gita Golonzka, Molecular and Cellular Biology
  • Nicholas David Goodell, History; Philosophy
  • Alexandra Greulich, English
  • Seth Matthew Gudmundson, Molecular and Cellular Biology
  • Gabriella Elizabeth Guerra, English
  • Jackson Philip Harvey, Molecular and Cellular Biology
  • Xinwei He, Mathematics; Computer Science
  • Mohammad Hosseini-Joujili, Molecular and Cellular Biology
  • Daryle Jessica Howard, Interdisciplinary Health
  • Yi Huang, Psychology; Economics
  • Sparsh Jain, Molecular and Cellular Biology
  • Cali Lee Marie Joyce, Psychology
  • Elise Kahn, Molecular and Cellular Biology
  • Vanessa Kalinowska, Molecular and Cellular Biology
  • Lydia Haelin Kang, Psychology; Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Kara Joan Kilpatrick, Psychology; Global Studies
  • Philip A. Kocheril, Chemistry
  • Peter Kolyvas, Molecular and Cellular Biology
  • Jared Krandel, Physics; Mathematics
  • Claire Victoria Kredens, Earth, Soc., & Environ. Sustain.; Geography
  • Zonglin Li, Psychology; Computer Science
  • Youjing Lin, Psychology
  • Meirav Lily Malter, Global Studies; Jewish Studies
  • Taylor Alexandra Marcusson, History
  • Meegan Elizabeth Mayer, Sociology; Political Science
  • Madeline Julianna McDevitt, Molecular and Cellular Biology
  • Caitlin McLain, Global Studies; Political Science
  • Jack Daniel Moore, Molecular and Cellular Biology
  • Grace Moran, History
  • Alexander N. Nemeh, Molecular and Cellular Biology; Psychology
  • Ysatris Nunez, Psychology; Spanish
  • Julia Nusgart, Political Science; Communication Sara Marie O’Malley, Political Science; Psychology
  • Francis Rodriguez Ogaban, Molecular and Cellular Biology
  • Jaimin Chetan Patel, Molecular and Cellular Biology
  •  Yesha Patel, Integrative Biology
  • Julia M. Petsche, English; Psychology
  • Jensen Ashleigh Rehn, History
  • Brittany Elizabeth Reid, Communication
  • Jake Robert Ritthamel, Integrative Biology; Chemistry
  • Jennifer Chantal Rodriguez, Molecular and Cellular Biology
  • Michael Joseph Ruby, History
  • Niti Nilesh Shah, Economics; Political Science
  • Chen Shen, Psychology
  • Claire Margaret Simons, Molecular and Cellular Biology
  • Daniel Mead Stelzer, Computer Science; Linguistics
  • Katelyn Stoker, Molecular and Cellular Biology
  • Christina Jean Su, Molecular and Cellular Biology
  • Divya Meher Surabhi, Psychology
  • Eriele Tellis, Political Science
  • Cole Edward Timmerwilke, Economics; Political Science
  • Stephanie Michelle Tipton, English
  • Wesley Scott Tung, Molecular and Cellular Biology
  • Titan Bambang Wibowo, Actuarial Science
  • Claire Marie Williams, Integrative Biology; Geology
  • Zishen Ye, Political Science; Urban Studies and Planning
  • Henry Hunter Yeary, English; Psychology
  • Yunyi Zhang, Computer Science; Mathematics
  • Zhao Zhang, Economics