Social Scientists Focus on the Rise of AI

Published: January 16, 2020

Artificial intelligence is becoming increasingly ubiquitous in society. For science and technology studies, this provides a unique opportunity to understand social and technological change.

Francis Lee, researcher at Uppsala University and project leader in WASP-HS, will in a workshop examine the rise of AI in society and the consequences it has for social scientists as they approach the increasing encroachment of algorithms and big data into the making of the world.

Francis Lee will be a keynote speaker at the international workshop The rise of AI society, organized by RN24 (Sociology of Science and Technology Network) of the European Sociological Association, May 28-29 2020, in Helsinki, Finland.

What will you focus on in the keynote?

Francis Lee: Today, AI and algorithms are increasingly producing a plethora of “facts” that shape our social lives in profound ways. For instance, they are used for things ranging from predicting natural catastrophes, like earthquakes or pandemics, to predict who is a risky person, such as a gambling addict, a loan applicant, a tax-cheater, an AIDS patient, or indeed a migrant being suspected for lying about their age. Thus, AI and algorithms are increasingly used to identify risky things in society.

With this development algorithms, AI, machine learning, and computerized computation increasingly produce facts about the world: and people and organizations are compelled to accept, challenge, account for, or in other ways relate to these computational classifications.

This presentation discusses these developments as challenges for social inquiry. How should social scientists approach the increasing encroachment of algorithms and big data into the making of the world? How do we do social analysis where we are increasingly becoming quantified, classified, and valued by algorithmic systems? Departing from a few examples of algorithmic risk prediction the paper discusses theoretical and methodological consequences of the algorithmization of society for social analysis.

You are a project leader in the WASP-HS program. How will that improve your research?

Francis Lee: The keynote will allow me to connect with key European researchers that work with social analyses of AI. It will in this sense allow WASP-HS to foster connections to a broader community of scholars using theories and methods developed in Science and Technology Studies to understand Artificial Intelligence.

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