Columbia University

Beyond Digital Technology
"The mind is not simply a computer; science alone can’t answer all questions. We need the humanities to help us understand life, the world, and society."
— Lydia Liu
Photo credit: Jill LeVine
Bequests from a Hong Kong alumnus and his sister strengthen faculty, helping Columbia to address teaching and research challenges in the global age.

What separates humans from machines? How do science and the humanities connect? Seeking answers beyond technology is Lydia Liu, the Wun Tsun Tam Professor of the Humanities and Professor of Chinese and Comparative Literature in the Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures. In her latest book, The Freudian Robot, she examines the role of writing in the digital age — “a new understanding of human-machine interplay at the level of the unconscious.”

Liu also serves as the director of graduate studies at the Institute for Comparative Literature and Society. “The Tams believed that education can change a person’s destiny,” she says. “Thanks to their bequests, professors can encourage students to explore into new ways of thinking about living in a digital society.”

Meet The Donor: Robert Yik-Fong Tam ’50BUS

Robert Yik-Fong Tam ’50BUS, pictured, and his sister Wun Tsun Tam, both of Hong Kong, together gave Columbia more than $29 million to fund key academic priorities. Mr. Tam — a banker and investment manager, an accomplished painter and patron of the arts — left a bequest of $14.2 million in March 2004. His sister, Wun Tsun Tam, a former teacher and administrator who did not attend the University, bequeathed $15 million to Columbia when she died in October 2004. In recognition of this great generosity, chairs have been established in each of their names.


Unrestricted gifts to Columbia give the University discretion to support priority needs. In the Tams’ case, their bequest gifts have been used to support faculty in the Arts and Sciences and the Business School, to launch the programs of the University’s Committee on Global Thought, and to further the programs of the C.V. Starr East Asian Library. Their gifts also funded the Tam Challenge for Endowed Professorships, which makes up to $15 million available to match certain additional gifts that support distinguished scholars in the Arts and Sciences.



Published: June 2011