We Need to Talk About Robots: Gender, Datafication and AI

Talk at Communication and Media Research Institute, University of Westminster

Date And Time

Thu, 21 November 2019, 17:00 – 19:00 GMT

Location

University of Westminster

309 Regent Street, Room: RS UG04

London W1B 2HW

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Tangle of colorful electric wires and cablesThis talk reviews how the acceleration of data infrastructure development and growing adoption of data practices in everyday life are entwined with wider cultural discourses about gender and sexuality. Using artificial intelligence (AI) assistants and social robots such as Alexa and Siri as an example, it analyses these links from a feminist data studies perspective focusing on three key themes.

First, it discusses the production of gender in everyday data practices, approaching everyday interactions and the household as sites of datafication. While the household is an ideological site central in the consumption of innovative technologies and the reproduction of hierarchical gender and labour relations, contemporary data technologies introduce unique new sets of conditions.

Second, the talk examines normative inscriptions of femininity and masculinity in the design of AI technologies. Questioning binary thinking and the “black-boxing” of gender identity in data studies, it considers the role of queer subjectivity and experience in the production of scientific knowledge.

Finally, the talk reflects on recent reports of symbolic and physical violence inflicted by data, and the vulnerabilities that automation and datafication represent for women, people of colour, and marginalised communities. It examines such data harms and vulnerabilities in relation to dominant perceptions of AI assistants and robots as “social actors” to illustrate the cultural and social contradictions that the domestication of robots introduces. This way the talk reinstates central questions of power and social justice in relation to new and emerging data technologies.

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