DIGMEX lecture by Benjamin Peters on Smart Tech: Cold War Means, Cold World Ends

  • Date: –18:00
  • Location: IRES Library at Gamla torget 3 and Zoom https://uu-se.zoom.us/j/62510017192
  • Organiser: Department of Informatics and Media in collaboration with IRES and the DIGMEX research network
  • Contact person: Maria Rogg
  • Föreläsning

As part of its network activities, DIGMEX continuously arranges research lectures with invited speakers on vital topics for our existential perspectives on digitality and automation.

We are proud to present Dr Benjamin Peters who will talk about “Smart Tech: Cold War Means, Cold World Ends”.

The seminar is a joint venture between the DIGMEX research network, Institute for Russian and Eurasian Studies (IRES) and the Research Seminar in Human Computer Interaction at the Department of Informatics and Media, and is open to everyone.

Lecture: “Smart Tech: Cold War Means, Cold World Ends”

Coevolved with the Cold War, smart technology chills far more than speech as it heats up more than one environment. In this talk I will unpack my ongoing book project on the history of Soviet artificial intelligence, or an alternative genealogy of how media and information technologies became “smart” in the twentieth century. Framed around the organizing argument against the Cold War instrumentalism of smart technology, this talk argues that smart tech – phones, cars, cities, etc. – we know today sprung from particular Cold War cutting-edge embodiments, despite their being long-neglected alternative genealogies and alternative ways forward: in particular, this talk critically advances, among other hypotheses, the following insights from Soviet artificial intelligence research: although appearing more of an archipelago of schools than a tradition of research, Soviet AI broadly emphasized intelligent environments, and not anthropomorphic machines, even as the proverbial “radiohead” in early revolutionary Soviet Union constitutes a mind-machine metaphor as suggestive as any mid-century brain-computers; contemporary AI debates stand to learn from the curious absence of any Soviet romance with cyborgs or the uncanny valley, even as the tragic case study of Chernobyl 1986/2022, among the failure of other smart environments, may help routinize a post-apocalyptic subaltern critique of AI. In neither genealogy is smart tech set to deliver on its most popular, progressive, and utopian promises.

Benjamin Peters is 2022-2023 Senior Fellow at the Cultures of Research (c:o/re), RWTH Aachen, Hazel Rogers Associate Professor of Media Studies at the University of Tulsa, and affiliated fellow at the Information Society Project at Yale Law School. He is the author of How Not to Network a Nation: The Uneasy History of the Soviet Internet (MITP 2016), editor of Digital Keywords: A Vocabulary of Information Society & Culture (Princeton UP 2016), and co-editor of Your Computer is on Fire (MITP 2021). He is currently at work on Soviet artificial intelligence, from which this talk will draw, and the Russian hackers project.