About Damon

Bio

Dr. Damon Horowitz is a Philosophy Professor and Serial Entrepreneur. His work explores what is possible at the boundaries of technology and the humanities.

Horowitz recently joined Google as In-House Philosopher / Director of Engineering, heading development of several personalization initiatives. He came to Google from Aardvark, the popular social search engine, where he was co-founder and CTO, overseeing product development and research strategy. Prior to Aardvark, Horowitz built several companies around applications of intelligent language processing. He co-founded Perspecta (acquired by Excite), was lead architect for Novation Biosciences (acquired by Agilent), and co-founded NewsDB (now Daylife).

Horowitz teaches courses in philosophy, cognitive science, and computer science at several institutions, including Stanford, NYU, Columbia, University of Pennsylvania, and San Quentin State Prison. He has spoken at conferences ranging from TED to AAAI to Web2.0, and his work has been featured in media ranging from the New York Times to Discovery Channel to TechCrunch. Horowitz was recently named one of the AdAge "Creativity 50" most inspiring thinkers and innovators of 2010.

Horowitz earned his B.A. from Columbia, M.S. from the MIT Media Lab, and Ph.D. from Stanford.

TED Conferences

TED2012, TED2011

Universities

Columbia, MIT, Stanford (Ph.D.)

People don't know I'm good at

I am a pianist, happily amateur. And recently attempting to become a guitarist, saxophonist, fiddler, and trombonist as well. I love playing music with others, drop me a line and we'll play...

Favorite talks

Comments & conversations

103250
Damon Horowitz
Posted about 4 years ago
LIVE CHAT With Damon Horowitz: When have you realized that you were wrong about what you once thought was right? June 8, 2011, 5-6PM EDT
Thank you for that comment Bill. If we are doing ethics, yet we are not considering anything to be deeply at stake for ourselves -- and thus for our identities -- we are perhaps not having the richest conversation. We define ourselves by the ideas we form and the actions we take, and it is our inescapable responsibility to do so. Of course, that doesn't mean that we should only consider our own self-interest when deliberating over an issue; quite the opposite. Rawls' "original position" is perhaps the best-known contemporary articulation of a methodology for avoiding that mistake.
103250
Damon Horowitz
Posted about 4 years ago
LIVE CHAT With Damon Horowitz: When have you realized that you were wrong about what you once thought was right? June 8, 2011, 5-6PM EDT
There is an entire branch of ethical scholarship that concerns itself specifically with the question of language -- in particular, how we are to interpret claims about right and wrong, whether they are like other kinds of truth claims, or are more akin to expressive statements and the like. There is also a great tradition of linguistic self-consciousness in social criticism which seeks to identify hidden power relations in the very language used to frame and express ethical issues. And if we were to broaden our scope of concerns even further, we find Wittgenstein with his classic characterization of our philosophizing on these matters, and the tangles we get into in our attempts to untangle: "Philosophy is a battle against the bewitchment of our intelligence by means of language..."
103250
Damon Horowitz
Posted about 4 years ago
LIVE CHAT With Damon Horowitz: When have you realized that you were wrong about what you once thought was right? June 8, 2011, 5-6PM EDT
In the present venue, I'm mainly interested in facilitating other peoples' reflection upon the moral dimension of their circumstances. But if asked to offer my own opinion... ...I would say that the challenge for the technology industry today is that we have found ourselves to be so extraordinarily successful at building devices which capture peoples' attention (and therefore, their dollars), and we have done so in an environment which allows us to rapidly observe the short-term effects of our design choices (say, which of two possible landing pages on a site has higher conversions)... and thus, as a consequence, most decisions tend to get made on the basis of what might optimize the usage/purchase numbers for our products. We are very good at optimizing for this, we know how to do it, it is easy -- and so we do it. In other words, what is missing is consideration of longer-term consequences of the things that we build, and reflection upon whether the choices we are making even now may be questionable on intrinsic grounds, regardless of their short-term benefits.
103250
Damon Horowitz
Posted about 4 years ago
LIVE CHAT With Damon Horowitz: When have you realized that you were wrong about what you once thought was right? June 8, 2011, 5-6PM EDT
There are a number of threads of philosophical discussion on the subject of ethical decision making in conditions of incomplete information, or other kinds of uncertainty. Many of these take as their starting point Mill's version of utilitarianism, and the proposition that perhaps we can only be held morally responsible -- praise- or blame- worthy -- for those consequences of our actions that we were able to predict... or should have been able to predict. Of course, that particular line presupposes already a consequentialist framework, but it also does dovetail in an interesting way with the question of how we might reevaluate our positions.
103250
Damon Horowitz
Posted about 4 years ago
LIVE CHAT With Damon Horowitz: When have you realized that you were wrong about what you once thought was right? June 8, 2011, 5-6PM EDT
A good friend of mine enjoys proclaiming -- somewhat hyperbolically -- that his hope whenever he is in a conversation is that he will be proven wrong about his prior view... for if that is the case, then he knows he is leaving the conversation better off than when he started it! Few may wholeheartedly subscribe to that characterization today -- but it's worth noting that it is not so far from the motivating impulse of our favorite interlocutor, Socrates...
103250
Damon Horowitz
Posted about 4 years ago
LIVE CHAT With Damon Horowitz: When have you realized that you were wrong about what you once thought was right? June 8, 2011, 5-6PM EDT
Delighted to hear that the philosophy class had the intended effect! One of the largest crises we are facing now as a society is the faltering status of the traditional liberal arts education, in favor of more immediate vocational training. The undergraduate years are a perfect time to engage tomorrow's leaders in the challenging questions of humanity... with the hope that this will help develop a sensibility that can better address the issues we are facing. It is also important that we continue to train scholars at the next level as well, and find ways to support graduate Humanities work -- as that is the level at which new insights are first developed. One of the challenges there is that the academic job market for young Humanities PhDs is, in a word, terrible. Yet increasingly there are opportunities for people with this background to have an impact in industry, to apply their skills and humanistic sensibility to evolving business practices and the like. Check out the recent BiblioTech conference at Stanford for a few great examples... http://humanexperience.stanford.edu/bibliotech/