A Cultural History of Artificial Intelligence (CulturIA)

CulturIA, a 3-year project funded by the ANR as part of the 2021 generic call for projects, is coordinated by Alexandre Gefen (UMR Thalim / CNRS, Université Sorbonne Nouvelle, ENS) with Ksenia Ermoshina (CIS UPR 2000, CNRS) and Benoît Sagot (Inria in Paris).

This project aims at building a cultural history of Artificial Intelligence, based on a mixed method, combining the methods of the history of ideas and the history of collective imaginations with a search of scientific literature and ethnographic field work among AI creators. Our goal is to understand AI through its narratives, symbols, cultural contexts, in short as a “technoculture”. We will question the concepts of AI, which will be mapped and studied historically, the knowledge of AI practitioners which will be approached through ethnographic surveys, and the artistic and fictional cultures of AI. Methodological originality, the collaboration with Inria specialists working on natural language processing will allow to use AI as an analytical tool while constituting a field of ethnographic investigation.

To this end, the project combines a set of original methods: a synchronic examination of the highly interdisciplinary and varied scientific culture of contemporary AI through a search of its literature in order to map its semantics and concepts (WP1); a series of field surveys based on the ethnography of science and technology in four different and representative cultural contexts (Silicon Valley, where contemporary industrial AI originated, an Asian country representative of the enthusiasm for a wide variety of AI uses, an authoritarian country likely to see AI as an instrument of social control, and old Europe), in order to understand the “technoculture” of practitioners (WP2); a retrospective history mobilizing some of the best historians of science and technology, the methods of archival work and oral history, and cultural historians in order to understand ideas that are often inseparable from sensitive representations (WP3).

Norbert Wiener, Encyclopædia Britannica

Project research notebook

This project is funded by the ANR.

Image credit
Norbert Wiener. Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. Encyclopædia Britannica.