Speaker Series


Algorithmic Warfare as an Apparatus of Recognition

Lucy Suchman
Lancaster University, Department of Sociology

Friday, November 1, 2019
3 – 5 p.m.
Milieux Institute, EV 11.705 (Resource Room)

In June of 2018, following a campaign initiated by activist employees within the company, Google announced its intention not to renew a US Defense Department contract for Project Maven, an initiative to automate the identification of military targets based on drone video footage. Defendants of the program argued that that it would increase the efficiency and effectiveness of US drone operations, not least by enabling more accurate recognition of those who are the program’s legitimate targets and, by implication, sparing the lives of noncombatants. But this promise begs a more fundamental question: What relations of reciprocal familiarity does recognition presuppose? And in the absence of those relations, what schemas of categorization inform our readings of the Other? The focus of a growing body of scholarship, this question haunts not only US military operations but an expanding array of technologies of social sorting. Understood as apparatuses of recognition (Barad 2007: 171), Project Maven and the US program of targeted killing are implicated in perpetuating the very architectures of enmity that they take as their necessitating conditions. Building upon generative intersections of critical security studies and science and technology studies (STS), I argue that the promotion of automated data analysis under the sign of artificial intelligence can only serve to exacerbate military operations that are at once discriminatory and indiscriminate in their targeting, while remaining politically and legally unaccountable. I close with some thoughts on how we might interrupt the workings of these apparatuses, in the service of wider movements for social justice.

Lucy Suchman is Professor of Anthropology of Science and Technology in the Department of Sociology at Lancaster University. Before taking up her present post she was a Principal Scientist at Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Center, where she spent twenty years as a researcher. She is the author of Human-Machine Reconfigurations (2007) published by Cambridge University Press. Her current research extends her longstanding engagement with the fields of artificial intelligence and human-computer interaction to the domain of contemporary war fighting, including the figurations that animate military training and simulation, and problems of ‘situational awareness’ in remotely-controlled weapon systems. Her research is concerned with the question of whose bodies are incorporated into these systems, how, and with what consequences for social justice and the possibility for a less violent world.

Hosted by Machine Agencies Research Group, Milieux Institute



Yelling at Computers

A Talk by Nicole He

Wednesday, October 2, 2019
3 – 4 p.m.
Milieux Institute, EV 11.705 (Resource Room)

Computers are able to understand human speech better than ever before, but voice technology is still mostly used for practical (and boring!) purposes, like playing music, smart home control, or customer service phone trees. What else can we experience in the very weird, yet intuitive act of talking out loud to machines? In this talk, Nicole will talk about her work making art and games using voice technology.
Nicole He is a programmer and artist based in Brooklyn, New York, currently making videogames, including an upcoming sci-fi voice-controlled game with the National Film Board of Canada. She has worked as a creative technologist at Google Creative Lab, an outreach lead at Kickstarter, and an adjunct faculty member at ITP at NYU, where she received her Master’s degree. Nicole’s work has been featured in places such as Wired, BBC, The Outline, and The New York Times.

AI Talks – IV

“The Real Life ‘Ex Machina’ Is Here”: Restoring the Gap between Science and Fiction

Teresa Heffernan Professor of English, Saint Mary’s University

Tuesday, April 23, 2019, 3 – 5 p.m. Milieux Institute, EV 10.625 (Speculative Life Research Cluster)

As a literary scholar, I have often been struck by the many references to fiction in discussions about the science of artificial intelligence and robotics, but how is fiction mobilized in this field? Why, for instance, are fictional robots so frequently collapsed with the robotics industry? And how do science and fiction differently imagine robots and artificial intelligence? The ubiquitous claims that fiction is coming true demonstrate a lack of understanding of how fiction works and thoroughly obfuscate the AI field, clouding the science and neutering the critical force of fiction. Referring to the new Schwartz Reisman Institute for Technology and Society in Toronto, Geoffrey Hinton said recently “My hope is that the Schwartz Reisman Institute will be the place where deep learning disrupts the humanities.” In contrast, this talk asks how the humanities might usefully challenge deep learning.

Teresa Heffernan is Professor of English at Saint Mary’s University, Halifax, NS. Her current research is on the science and fiction of robotics and AI. Her edited collection Cyborg Futures: Cross-disciplinary Perspectives on Artificial Intelligence and Robotics is forthcoming with Palgrave, where she is co-editor (with Cathrine Hasse and Kathleen Richardson) of the Social and Cultural Studies of Robots and AI book series. Her previous books include Veiled Figures: Women, Modernity, and the Spectres of Orientalism (2016) and Post-Apocalyptic Culture: Modernism, Postmodernism, and the Twentieth-Century Novel (2008).


AI Talks – III

Better, Nicer, Clearer, Fairer: A Critical Assessment of the Movement for Ethical Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning

Luke Stark – Microsoft Research Montreal

Friday, February 22, 2019

2 – 4 p.m.

Milieux Institute, EV 11.705 (Resource Room)

We use frame analysis to examine recent high-profile values statements endorsing ethical design for artificial intelligence and machine learning (AI/ML). Guided by insights from values in design and the sociology of business ethics, we uncover the grounding assumptions and terms of debate that make some conversations about ethical design possible while forestalling alternative visions. Vision statements for ethical AI/ML co-opt the language of some critics, folding them into a limited, technologically deterministic, expert-driven view of what ethical AI/ML means and how it might work.

Luke Stark is a Postdoctoral Researcher in the Fairness, Accountability, Transparency and Ethics (FATE) Group at Microsoft Research Montreal, and an Affiliate of the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University. His work explores the history, ethics and social impacts of computational media and AI. Luke holds a PhD from the Department of Media, Culture, and Communication at New York University, and an Honours BA and MA from the University of Toronto.


AI Talks – II

Experiencing Machine Agency

Chris Salter – University Research Chair in New Media, Technology and the Senses/Hexagram/Milieux

Tuesday January 29, 2019

3 – 5 p.m.

Milieux Institute, EV 11.705 (Resource Room)

What does it mean to experience a machine “acting” or “performing?” This talk focuses on artistic projects involving machine learning that explore how temporal agency and experience are re-imagined and re-configured. I aim to basically raise a group of questions: Do these technologies actually make possible new aesthetic experiences? Do they transform human perception or displace human makers and perceivers with reduced understandings of human emotion and behavior? What have artists done historically with these technologies and how do they differ from what engineers and computer scientists do?

Chris Salter is an artist, University Research Chair in New Media, Technology and the Senses at Concordia University and Co-Director of the Hexagram network for Research-Creation in Media Arts and Technology in Montreal. He studied philosophy and economics at Emory University and completed a PhD in directing/dramatic criticism at Stanford University where he also researched and studied at CCMRA. In the 1990s, he collaborated with Peter Sellars and William Forsythe/Frankfurt Ballet in Salzburg, Paris, and London. His artistic work has been seen in festivals and exhibitions all over the world including the Venice Biennale. He is the author of Entangled: Technology and the Transformation of Performance (MIT Press, 2010) and Alien Agency: Experimental Encounters with Art in the Making (MIT Press, 2015). He is creative consultant for the Barbican Centre’s (London) 2019 thematic season: Life Rewired. He is currently working on a book focused on how we make sense in an age of sensors, algorithms, machine learning and quantification.


AI Talks – I

You can listen to the first of our AI Talks series here:

Jonathan Roberge’s talk:


recorded by Tom Hackbarth

The New Silicon Valley of the North, Really? The Myth and Reality of Building an AI Hub in the Montreal Area

Jonathan Roberge Associate Professor, Institut National de la Recherche Scientifique, Canada Research Chair in Digital Culture

Tuesday December 4, 2018

3 – 5 p.m.

Milieux Institute, EV 11.705 (Resource Room)

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