Leslie Valiant at the Harvard Science Center


The Importance of Being Educable:
A New Theory of Human Uniqueness 

in conversation with MELISSA FRANKLIN


April 17, 2024
6:00 PM ET
(Doors at 5:30)


Harvard Science Center Hall C
1 Oxford Street, Cambridge, MA


$0.00 (Free RSVP Required) $31.82 (book-included)

Harvard Book Store, the Harvard University Division of Science, and the Harvard Library welcome LESLIE VALIANT—T. Jefferson Coolidge Professor of Computer Science and Applied Mathematics at Harvard University and author of Probably Approximately Correct—for a discussion of his new book The Importance of Being Educable: A New Theory of Human Uniqueness. He will be joined in conversation by MELISSA FRANKLIN—Mallinckrodt Professor of Physics


There are two ticket options available for this event. Leslie Valiant will sign copies of his new book after the presentation.

Free General Admission Ticket: Includes admission for one.

Book-Included Ticket: Includes admission for one and one hardcover copy of The Importance of Being Educable.


About The Importance of Being Educable

We are at a crossroads in history. If we hope to share our planet successfully with one another and the AI systems we are creating, we must reflect on who we are, how we got here, and where we are heading. The Importance of Being Educable puts forward a provocative new exploration of the extraordinary facility of humans to absorb and apply knowledge. The remarkable “educability” of the human brain can be understood as an information processing ability. It sets our species apart, enables the civilization we have, and gives us the power and potential to set our planet on a steady course. Yet it comes hand in hand with an insidious weakness. While we can readily absorb entire systems of thought about worlds of experience beyond our own, we struggle to judge correctly what information we should trust.

In this visionary book, Leslie Valiant argues that understanding the nature of our own educability is crucial to safeguarding our future. After breaking down how we process information to learn and apply knowledge, and drawing comparisons with other animals and AI systems, he explains why education should be humankind’s central preoccupation.

Will the unique capability that has been so foundational to our achievements and civilization continue to drive our progress, or will we fall victim to our vulnerabilities? If we want to play to our species’ great strength and protect our collective future, we must better understand and prioritize the vital importance of being educable. This book provides a road map.

Praise for The Importance of Being Educable

“Valiant cogently argues that the key attribute of humans is the ability to learn from one another. He addresses the issue of whether computers that learn from us will eventually learn from each other and surpass us in intelligence and power, and shows how the educability of humans has had dramatic consequences that need to be considered seriously when contemplating the future of artificial intelligence.” —Richard J. Roberts, Nobel Prize–winning biochemist and molecular biologist

“How could one possibly argue with the premise: ‘the importance of being educable’? What Valiant manages to do in this book is to lay out a convincing argument that being educable is fundamental to our ability to function in modern society. One must want to learn and like to learn because the consequences of ignorance are so hazardous. Knowing how to learn is even more important than wanting to learn. Start on page one.” —Vint Cerf, internet pioneer

“A significant contribution. Through the medium of crisp notions from computer science and machine learning, Valiant gives readers the necessary footing to understand human educability more deeply and to explore the fascinating implications—for everything from AI to education—of taking it more seriously.” —Peter Dayan, director of the Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics in Tübingen

Masking Policy

Masks are encouraged but not required for this event.

Leslie Valiant
Leslie Valiant

Leslie Valiant

Leslie Valiant is the T. Jefferson Coolidge Professor of Computer Science and Applied Mathematics at Harvard University. Recipient of the Turing Award and the Nevanlinna Prize for his foundational contributions to machine learning and computer science, he is the author of Probably Approximately Correct and Circuits of the Mind.

Melissa Franklin
Melissa Franklin

Melissa Franklin

Melissa Franklin is an experimental particle physicist who studies proton-proton collisions produced by the Large Hadron Collider (LHC). Professor Franklin, born and raised in Canada, received her B.Sc. from the University of Toronto and her Doctorate from Stanford University. She worked as a post-doctoral fellow at Lawrence Berkeley Lab, was an assistant professor at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaigh, and was a Junior Fellow in the Society of Fellows at Harvard, before joining the Harvard faculty in 1989.


There is NO PARKING at the Science Center. For those traveling to the Science Center by car, there is paid public parking in Harvard Square. More info here.

Harvard Science Center Hall C
1 Oxford Street, Cambridge, MA

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