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Histories of Artificial Intelligence: A Genealogy of Power


Idealizations of Behavior

Time: Friday 4 June @ 15:00-17:00 PM BST

Co-facilitated by: Theodora Dryer (AI Now Institute), Jamie Cohen Cole (Columbian College of Arts & Sciences), Louise Hickman (Ada Lovelace Institute)

The Seminar theme of 'encoded behaviour' considers how AI tools have been used, successfully and not, to render aspects of human behaviour legible, intelligible, formalisable and even programmable in diverse ways. This session asks how have 'learning' systems of this variety tended to discipline the behaviour of their user base and surrounding communities toward certain ideals? In what ways has the informational infrastructure required to make such systems 'learn' in fact pressured individuals and communities to act in the ways 'predicted' from supposedly analogous cases?

Our speakers consider these questions from different, but related, perspectives. In The Open Mind: Cold War Politics and the Sciences of Human Nature, Cohen-Cole demonstrates how personality traits like autonomy, creativity, and the use of reason were packaged into the concept of ‘open mindedness’ to function, ironically, as a shorthand for the virtuous mid-century democratic citizen, unaffected by Communist conformity. In Computing Landscapes, forthcoming, Dryer builds on her award winning PhD dissertation, 'Designing Certainty: The Rise of Algorithmic Computing in an Age of Anxiety, 1920-1970.' The latter traces a hundred-year trajectory of an algorithmic architecture: the {confidence interval parameter} and its corresponding regimes of {uncertainty work}. Between 1920 and 1970 an information transformation occurred that reconfigured economic, scientific, and environmental planning processes under a shared program to command uncertainty in data management, the epistemic and economic power undergirding digital algorithmic computing. Designing Certainty ends where the story begins, with farm management. But this is now an agricultural enterprise incorporating the aerial and algorithmic perspectives emergent from decades of imperial control.

Drawing material from a paper entitled, 'A Genealogy of Access Work: Proposition 22, the HIV Crisis, and the Americans with Disabilities Act,' Hickman will trace a genealogy of 'access work' as it emerges from the American with Disabilities Act (1990) during the first term of Bush’s administration. This excavation connects the precarious state and ideological transformations of access work to the development of the gig economy, examining in particular the implications of the successful passage of Proposition 22 in the state of California in 2020.  In the space of thirty years, civil rights for disabled people have both expanded and been dismantled through new austerity measures and the hijacking of the politics of the independent living movement by 'big tech.' Against this background, this paper offers a reading of Prop 22 by considering the wholesale impact of the economization of dependency and the casualization of labor practices since the Reagan-Thatcher era. Hickman argues that the economization of dependency depoliticizes access, transforming it from a state-guaranteed right into a service for which 'entrepreneurial' labor is increasingly made responsible.

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