Keynote: Ruha Benjamin
Professor of African American Studies at Princeton University, Director of the Ida B. Wells Just Data Lab and author of Race After Technology: Abolitionist Tools for the New Jim Code.
Conference theme overview
The aim of this conference is to critically interrogate issues of bordering in artificial intelligence (AI). This conference examines both how AI operates at material borders, including national and bodily borders, and how AI produces or transgresses imagined, theoretical and ideological borders, such as categories of race, gender, age and class. Compelled by Gayatri Spivak’s insistence that we attend to borders (Spivak 2016), taking into account when border crossings are a violation and when they are pleasurable, we ask: what kinds of border-crossing are induced by AI, and what kinds are prohibited? Which borders does AI reinforce, and which borders does it render obsolete? We aim to explore the tension between the possibilities of transgressing boundaries, especially in the context of binary categorisation, and the risks of equating boundary subversion with emancipatory political practices. In particular, we are interested in scholarship that examines how AI’s transgression of boundaries can unintentionally entrench, rather than challenge, gendered and racialised norms.
By “radical” we mean all manner of anti-racist, feminist, inclusive, queer, justice-focused scholarship that accounts for the intersectional nature of power. We welcome all kinds of interventions with broad and differing stances towards what constitutes radical work and where its priorities lie. For example, in its critique of power, feminist scholarship, methods and activism has robustly interrogated conditions of marginality and the shifting dynamics of inclusion and exclusion. It has provided a set of methodologies to examine how borders emerge, who these borders include and who they exclude, and the radical politics that arise within these border zones. Feminist, anti-racist, and queer scholarship by scholars like Sara Ahmed and Gloria Anzaldúa has illuminated the formative role of emotions in generating bodily and national borders (Ahmed 2004) and provided groundbreaking re-imaginings of the border and what it means (Anzaldúa 2007). We are interested in a wide variety of critical approaches to AI from the margins that interrogate how i) AI at the border and ii) the bordering processes of AI, differentially affect and produce disabled, queer, gendered, and racialised subjects.
Call for Papers
We invite radical (re)visions of AI at, with, and through the concept and the material site of the border. We are structuring the conference around the following five themes and we strongly encourage applicants to suggest papers that speak to one or more of these themes in order to develop fruitful discussions at panels:
- The Prison as Border
- AI, Nationalism and National Borders
- Bodily Borderlands
- Fiction and Fact
The first theme is ‘The Prison as Border: AI, Carceral Technologies and Prison Abolition’. Driven by Angela Davis and Gina Dent’s argument that ‘the prison is itself a border...that un-does the illusions of the powerful nation-states on the one hand and the seeming disorganization and chaos of capital's travels on the other’, we ask how AI technologies contribute to the ‘specific political economy’ of the prison (Davis and Dent 2001: 1236-1237). Papers under this theme might examine topics like the co-development of military technologies and policing tools, or the globalisation of AI security regimes and technologies.
The second theme is ‘AI, Nationalism, and the Borders of the Nation State’. Papers might examine how AI development feeds into a colonial logic of expanding the national “frontier” through narratives of progress; how the refraction of AI across borders may fundamentally challenge the power of the state; or how AI nationalism retrenches national processes of bordering. Papers may also focus on the increasing use of AI technologies, such as biometrics, to define the borders of the nation-state, and the use of these technologies in spaces like border control and immigration detention centres.
The third theme is ‘Bodily Borderlands’. How does AI trouble the boundaries between the body and technology, the fleshly and the machinic? More importantly, how does AI trouble the concept of “the body” in and of itself? Conceptual borders between bodies, hardware, and software have inhibited accurate theorisations of how discrimination is encoded into AI. Papers could therefore explore what the de-stabilisation of the distinction between hardware and software (Frabetti 2014) can contribute to the articulation of encoded injustice. Papers could also examine human-AI inferfaces and ecologies, feminist and anti-racist (re)visions of the posthuman, tactile and affective technologies, contemporary interpretations of cyborg theory, and how new and emerging technologies push ordinary notions of embodiment to their logical limits.
The fourth theme is ‘Fiction and Fact’, interrogating the dynamic interplay between AI technologies and narratives, stories, and imaginaries about AI. Papers could examine the border between fiction and fact by demonstrating how science fiction directly influences AI production and public understandings of AI, or how AI technologies generate new modes of creative production and storytelling. They could also examine the inequalities in who is represented in stories about AI and who tells stories about AI, how this affects the production of AI technologies, and how these imbalances could be addressed.
The fifth theme is ‘Liminality’, and examines how AI’s classificatory procedures create spaces of illegibility and in betweenness. Papers could examine how data collection processes and machine vision render certain subjects illegible or semi-legible, and interrogate both the perils and the potentials of these positions of (il)legibility. Papers could also examine how AI creates spaces of temporal suspension, or states of purgatory, with (mis-)read subjects existing outside of social time.
The conference will take place as a hybrid event, with attendees having the option to attend online or in person, depending on the status of the COVID-19 pandemic. If it would not be safe or possible to hold any aspect of the conference in person, the conference will be shifted to an entirely virtual format. The event will be a mix of panels, which this CFP invites contributions to, and invited talks. If possible, we hope to include film screenings, exhibitions of artwork, and demonstrations of new and innovative technologies.
Please upload a 300 word abstract to the Critical Borders submission form, available here. Abstracts must be submitted by June 11th, 2021. Presentations should last 20 minutes. Please email any questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. We will notify you regarding the status of your submission by June 30th, 2021.
- Dr Stephen Cave, Executive Director of the Leverhulme Centre for the Future of Intelligence;
- Dr Kanta Dihal, Senior Research Fellow at the Leverhulme Centre for the Future of Intelligence and Project Lead for the Global AI Narratives and Decolonizing AI research projects;
- Professor Jude Browne, Director of the University of Cambridge Centre for Gender Studies and Principal Investigator for the Gender and Technology Project;
- Dr Eleanor Drage, Research Associate for the Gender and Technology Project;
- Dr Kerry Mackereth, Research Associate for the Gender and Technology Project;
- Tonii Leach, Research Assistant for the Global AI Narratives project
This conference is generously funded by the Obert C. Tanner Lectures on Artificial Intelligence and Human Values; Christina Gaw; the Leverhulme Centre for the Future of Intelligence; and the University of Cambridge Centre for Gender Studies.
Image: Vicki Smith, Peaceful Mind, 2017, Oil on Canvas, 36 X 48 in. Bau-Xi Gallery, Toronto, Canada