William Shiyuan Wang gives talk at UM on evolution of Homo sapiens
The University of Macau held a Doctor honoris cause Lecture today (1 December). Prof William Shiyuan Wang, honorary doctor of UM, gave a talk titled ‘SAPIENS—a Journey of 6 Million Years’. Referencing findings from fields such as anthropology, archaeology, genetics, and cognitive neuroscience, Prof Wang examined the six-million-year evolution of Homo sapiens and engaged in in-depth discussions on cutting-edge topics such as the development of artificial intelligence (AI). The event attracted many UM faculty and students, as well as people from different sectors of the community.
Prof Wang is a world-renowned linguist, a chair professor of language and cognitive science at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, and an academician of the Academia Sinica in Taiwan. He started the talk by explaining how Homo sapiens evolved to become the dominant species on Earth, and pointed out that humans and chimpanzees, who are both part of the primate order, diverged around six million years ago, leading to the transition to bipedalism in humans. This shift resulted in two critical changes: first, the freeing of the hands, which facilitated tool creation and subsequently encouraged an increase in brain size and neural complexity; second, the development of language, which significantly improved communication. As such, humans have relied on both biological and cultural evolution to accelerate the spread of innovation throughout their evolutionary history, ultimately becoming the masters of the planet.
Referring to the rapid growth and increasing maturity of AI technology, Prof Wang said that although AI is powerful, people should not overlook its potential risks. He suggested that people should pay more attention to new disciplines in the humanities, deepen their understanding of human nature, including cognition, emotions, and moral values, which can help mitigate the risks and temptations associated with AI. In this way, humans and machines will coexist in harmony and join hands to foster creation.
The event was moderated by Andrew Moody, head of the Department of English of UM’s Faculty of Arts and Humanities (FAH). Xu Jie, dean of FAH and director of the Centre for Linguistics, presented UM souvenirs to Prof Wang at the end of the engaging lecture.
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