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How do ethnic, racial, and colonial histories inform historical and contemporary practices of AI? These will be the organising questions in an online lecture and masterclass on “Ethnicity and AI” with Kalindi Vora & Edward Jones-Imhotep.

The online, streaming event will be held on 30 April 2024, 17:00 (London time). It is sponsored by the Digital Futures Institute's Centre for Digital Culture (King’s College London), the King's Institute for Artificial Intelligence (King’s College London), and the Department of English (Notre Dame).

The Zoom lectures will stream here, free and open to all.

To receive the texts and the Zoom link for the master class, limited signup is available here.

Professor Vora: Residues of AI

This talk takes up technologies of automation, modeling and data collection that compose some of what gets deemed “artificial intelligence” to examine the engineering imaginaries behind the variety of processes and machines that get referred to as “AI.” It looks at two contrasting examples — one by the US National Aeronautics and Space Agency (NASA) — an arm of the US military that conducts research — and the other by a collaboration between Buddhist cognitive scientists and philosophers — to locate, identify and compare the specific imaginaries at work. Considering the long history of the “coloniality of modernity” these technologies inherit, a phrase decolonial thinker Anibel Quijano uses to describe the domination of the current epoch by one limited worldview, it asks where we might find what Bowker and Star call “residual” of what gets coded and automated as a place to think about the limits of that modernity.

Prof. Jones-Imhotep: Black Androids

This talk explores the history of the "black androids" — automata in the form of black humans. From the 18th century onwards, hundreds of black androids were produced, purchased, and displayed across four continents. Using the technologies of the time — steam, mechanics, electricity — they portrayed Black people in pastoral, leisurely, and non-technological roles, supporting the myth of Black technological disingenuity. The talk asks what these androids reveal about the long histories of automation, and what new methods we might use to challenge their ongoing legacies.


Kalindi Vora is Professor of Ethnicity, Race, & Migration, Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies and American Studies. She is a cultural theorist and anthropologist who studies the impact of histories of science and technology on contemporary arenas of labor, health and design. Her work engages with STS, critical race and gender studies, historical materialist theories. Her first book, Life Support: Biocapital and the New History of Outsourced Labor (4S Rachel Carson Book Prize 2018), takes up questions of technology, colonialism and raced and gendered labor under globalization. Her second book is Surrogate Humanity: Race Robotics and the Politics of Technological Futures (Duke 2019), co-authored with Neda Atanasoski, a project on the racial and gendered politics of robotics and artificial intelligence. With the Precarity Lab, she is co-author of Technoprecarious (2020), which tracks the role of digital technologies in multiplying precarity. Her collected ethnographic work on transnational gestational surrogacy in India is published in the book Reimagining Reproduction: Surrogacy, Labour and Technologies of Human Reproduction (2022). She will be Visiting Professor at the Univ. of Bonn’s “AI in the Human Context” Project in summer 2024 and 2025.

Edward Jones-Imhotep is Director of the Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science and Technology at the University of Toronto. A historian of the social and cultural life of machines, he is the author of The Unreliable Nation: Hostile Nature and Technological Failure in the Cold War (MIT Press, 2017), which won the Sidney Edelstein Book Prize. His forthcoming book, Histories from Broken Worlds: Failing Machines and the Modern Self, explores how modern liberal democracies used the experience of machine breakdowns to define proper citizens. His new research project, The Black Androids, explores black technological experience in 19th and early 20th century America through a history of the "black androids" — automata in the form of black humans.

Ranjodh Singh Dhaliwal is Ruth and Paul Idzik Collegiate Chair in Digital Scholarship and Assistant Professor of English and Film, Television, and Theatre at the University of Notre Dame. He researches and teaches about the aesthetic and politico-economic entanglements of our technological cultures. His award-winning writing appears, or is forthcoming, in Critical Inquiry, Configurations, American Literature, and Design Issues, among other venues.

Bernard Dionysius Geoghegan is a media theorist and historian of science researching how digital technologies shape science, culture, and the environment. He has also worked as a curator. Bernard earned a binational Ph.D. from Northwestern University and Bauhaus University Weimar. He has written on such topics as Orientalism in informatics, anxiety and vigilance shape networked communications, the political origins of interactive digital interfaces, how the rise cybernetics shaped fields such as French theory and family therapy, German media theory, and relations between new media and the occult. His essays appear in journals including Critical Inquiry, Grey Room, Representations, and Theory, Culture & Society. Bernard taught at Yale University, Coventry University, the Humboldt University of Berlin, and the American University of Paris.

At this event

Bernard Geoghegan

Reader in the History and Theory of Digital Media