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.