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Histories of Artificial Intelligence: A Genealogy of Power


Wednesday 27 May 2020, 16:00–18:00 BST / 11:00–13:00 EDT

wilcoxDr Lauren Wilcox led the first session of Graduate Training for the Sawyer Seminar 'Histories of Artificial Intelligence: A Genealogy of Power' on 27 May 2020. In recognition of her work on the problem of embodiment as related to political theory and artificial intelligence, Lauren was asked to lead a session on the topic of AI and gender. She provided participants with a comprehensive overview of dominant academic feminist thought and its relevance to STEM, with particular focus on computing, data, and artificial intelligence. Her overview of understandings of gender took participants through a number of schools, namely:

  • Early 20th century French existentialism and feminist theory, beginning with Simone de Beavoir's famous Second Sex and its influence on the perception of gender as artifice.
  • Difference feminism and the reproduction of Cartesian Dualism through exclusion of women in STEM and gendered devaluing of women's intelligence or female-dominated fields.
    • Recommendations included: Alison Adams, Marie Hicks, and Muneera Bano.
  • Diversity & intersectionality's move away from difference feminism's centring of the category of 'woman' in order to recognise multiple forms of structural oppression which are reproduced through technological violence.
    • Recommendations included work by Ruha Benjamin and Safiya Noble
  • Poststructuralism & queer approaches to deconstructing the male/female binary through recognising gender as a repeated stylisation in a regulatory frame produced with the appearance of natural order over time.
    • Recommendations included: Judith Butler, and Anne Fausto-Sterling's later analysis of the relationship between performed gender and the material body
  • In the same school of thought, cybernetic thinkers' use of the artifice of producing intelligence (or gender, race, and sexuality), and the co-constitution of the human and machine, in order to disrupt ontological boundaries.
    • Recommendations included: Katherine Hayles, Judith Halberstam, Donna Haraway, and Paul Preciado.
  • Decolonial approaches to gender and the need to decolonise the taxonomy of categories, rather than to aim for greater 'inclusion' within these categories and the socio-political genealogies that form them. Following this approach, the relationship between the black radical tradition and forms of posthuman feminism are of great import here for their recognition of the category of the human as ascriptive, rather than descriptive, in manners bound to assimilating 'humanity' through anti-blackness.
    • Recommendations included: Hortense Spillers, Kalindi Vora and Neda Atanasoski, Sylvia Winter, Alexander Weheliye, Zakiyyah Iman Jackson

Some central points of interest which arose in the course of this presentation and discussion, additional to this overview, were:

  • The need to analyse the political systems which technological artefacts serve, not just the artefacts themselves (i.e. to combat structural oppressions rather than address problematics through technological solutions or ethics-based liberal policy solutions).
  • The contingent, anxious, and adaptive understanding of gender as artifice in the development of these schools of feminist thought and their contemporary STEM schools, particularly computer sciences.
  • The multiple forms of feminist thought, how these influence one another, or build upon one another, and benefits as well as legitimate critiques of these schools.

Works cited (in the chat)

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