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Histories of Artificial Intelligence: A Genealogy of Power


Wednesday 23 September 2020, 15:00–17:00 BST

Co-facilitator: Prof. Stephanie Dick (University of Pennsylvania)


This session provides an introductory overview to the ways in which the history of computing has developed. We examine the sets of questions that historians of computing have set out to ask, and where they believed the answers were to be found. We will consider the standard account that history of computing started small and internalist, focused on the machines themselves and their male 'inventors', and that focus has shifted through various critical trends – related to labor, business, race, gender, disability, epistemology, environment, and colonialism – to other actors and institutions.

In addition to providing an introduction to this literature, Prof. Dick will also raise a set of open questions in the emerging histories of AI. Historians of AI are in a strange position. In a sense, we share many concerns with those who develop AI. Like them, we are devoted to theorizing the character of knowledge, of technological change, of the dynamics of labor and cognition. Like them, we often adopt structural and systemic logics to do so. Prof. Dick will advocate for increased self reflection in our own historiography. What is our own relationship, as a field, to the power consolidated in AI itself? Do we risk reinforcing the power AI holds by focusing our gaze upon it, even by way of critique? How does our own work travel and who does it serve? How should we understand the utility and applicability of our own knowledge in relation to the political inheritance(s) of Cold War risk logics? What is the provenance of our own tools for understanding the histories of AI, and how might they draw on the same cybernetic and axiomatic resources as AI researchers themselves? Prof. Dick will offer context for these provocations in relation to existing understandings of history of computing, and in relation to her own research.

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