Bergen Summer Research School

Glitches: Towards a framework for critique of cultures of AI

Developing a critique of cultures of Artificial Intelligence in the context of research and higher education

People staring at their screens
Robin Worrall on Unsplash

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Annelin Eriksen
Department of Social Anthropology, UiB

In this lecture I argue that we need to mobilize as much effort in the development of critique of cultures of Artificial Intelligence (AI) as we do in the development of AI, especially in the context of research and higher education. Drawing on studies from media and technology (for instance Cubitt 2017, Kneese 2023) l suggest a methodology for developing such a critique based on “glitches”. A glitch is visible when an unexpected outcome is produced.

These unexpected outcomes are entry points, I argue, for an understanding of what AI takes for granted, what remains unquestioned by developers or phenomena that change their form in the context of AI. I call this methodology “ethnographic mapping of glitches”.

I will present ethnography from one such phenomenon: the work on digital immortality and mind-uploading/mind-cloning projects in the US. I show how analyzing glitches can be a pathway to a critique of cultures of AI. Such a critique is particularly important in a context where techno-solutionism has become a dominant mode of tackling challenges to sustainable development.

Annelin Eriksen is professor of anthropology at the University of Bergen. She has worked ethnographically in Vanuatu, in the South West Pacific, since 1995 on topics such as gender, social and cultural change, future, cosmology and religion. 

In 2018 she started working ethnographically on transhumanism and technoscientific immortality movements in the US and in Europe. She is particularly interested in changing cultural perceptions of what a human being is perceived to be in contexts of AI and robotics. Her overall interest is in understanding how ideas, imaginations and visions of the future have concrete effects on contemporary social practices, from policy-making to formations of religious and ideological movements.