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Histories of Artificial Intelligence: A Genealogy of Power


Sananda Sahoo is a PhD candidate in Media Studies at the Faculty of Information and Media Studies, Western University, Canada. She combines approaches from studies on public sphere, new media studies and colonial/postcolonial histories to explore intersections of AI infrastructure and the public. Her previous research includes political posters and platforms, questions of collective responsibility, sites of violence in the digital sphere, and colonial narratives in photographs and memoirs by women. She holds an MPhil in English Literature and master's degrees in Journalism and English Literature.

Project: Translation of P.C. Mahalanobis' Keno Rabindranath Ke Chayi

The proposed project aims to translate statistician Prasanta Chandra Mahalanobis' book Keno Rabindranath Ke Chayi? (1921) from Bengali to English. Translated as "Why Do We Need Rabindranath?", the book offers a glimpse into Mahalanobis' philosophy on race and religion that is not available in his English writings on statistics. The rationale behind the project is to bring to the English-speaking scholarly world engaged in critical data studies, especially relating to race, the previously untranslated work of Mahalanobis that can lead to further studies.

The book is a defense of why Rabindranath Tagore, India's poet laureate, should be inducted into the Sadharon Brahmo Samaj, a religious group based on the philosophy of universalism. Both Mahalanobis and Tagore belonged to the reformist faction of Brahmo religion. As scholars Sugata Bose and Ira Pande suggest, Tagore's idea of universalism rooted in the colonial experiences avoided narrow patriotism but celebrated the vernacular. His ideals influenced Mahalanobis' worldview. Mahalanobis was clear that interpretation of data, biometric included, should be open to "objective checks" and significance of anthropological claims based on data depends on the "legitimacy of the interpretation of historical and sociological factors of varying importance" ("Analysis of Race-Mixture in Bengal", Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal 1927, 323). When read in the light of the Bengali book, Mahalanobis' conclusions from biometric data are a warning against unintended consequences of data. The translation project also questions whether Mahalanobis' biometric studies can be called regionalist biometric nationalism. Given the philosophy driving Mahalanobis as suggested in the Bengali book and in his English articles, one can suggest that while he was open to using Western hegemonic strategies of profile mapping and sampling to map races and religions in India in his biometric projects, he was doing a counter-map of inter- and intra-provincial intermix of races where caste hierarchy is a major factor. Caste along with religion are revealed as the fault lines of the Indian society.

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