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SPA Seminar Series: Dr Beth Singler (University of Cambridge): “Blessed by the Algorithm”: Artificial Intelligence, Aspirations, and Agency

SPA Seminar Series: Dr Beth Singler (University of Cambridge)

A Department of Sociology & Philosophy seminar
Date13 November 2019
Time15:30 to 17:00
PlaceAmory B105

“Blessed by the Algorithm”: Artificial Intelligence, Aspirations, and Agency


Abstract

“Blessed by the Algorithm”: Artificial Intelligence, Aspirations, and Agency “My first long haul flight that didn’t fill up and an empty row for me I have been blessed by the algorithm ” – tweet, anonymised, from 2018

Drawing on anthropological fieldwork, both on and offline, this paper will explore how over-hyped and aspirational imaginaries of artificial intelligence have traceable effects on both discourse and society, while also becoming entangled with older narratives and tropes from cultural and religious contexts. We will begin this exploration with the four word expression “Blessed by the algorithm” (BBtA): initially the public expression of the feeling that you have been lucky in what appears on your feed on various social media platforms, or in the success or virality content as a creator, or in what gig economy jobs you are offered. Ethnographic analysis of the BBtA discourse will show how it reflects wider assumptions about the agency, and even the super-agency, of algorithms and artificial intelligence. Assumptions that are fuelled by narratives of success and futurism that precede the state of the technological art. Connections with older social and religious movements will be drawn out to demonstrate historical continuities and the entanglements of technology with society’s aspirations and dreamings of the future.

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