Critical AI: A Field in Formation

September 11, 2023

Jennifer Rhee
Jennifer Rhee

Meet VCU Authors: Jennifer Rhee, PhD

Start time: 12:00 p.m.

End time: 1:00 p.m

Location: Virtual

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In this virtual talk, Jennifer Rhee, Rita Raley and J.D. Schnepf will provide an overview of the emerging interdisciplinary field of Critical AI, analyzing artificial intelligence and machine learning in relation to race, gender, ecologies, art, poetics, race, warfare, pedagogy, and speculative fiction.

"Critical AI: A Field in Formation," an issue of American Literature, explores a critical approach to AI that combines humanistic and technical inquiry in its exploration of disciplinary and epistemological questions on the one hand, and the techniques of machine learning on the other. Critical AI seeks to demystify artificial intelligence; counter its mythologizing as a marvelous and impenetrable black box; and translate, interpret, and critique its operations, from data collection and model architecture to decision making. Artists and researchers are developing new methods, practices, and concepts for this critical project, which is both historicist and attentive to the institutional, technological, and epistemic transformations still underway.


About the Speakers

Jennifer Rhee, PhD is an associate professor in the Department of English and the Media, Art, and Text Ph.D. Program at Virginia Commonwealth University. She’s written about robotics and artificial intelligence in technology, visual and performance art, literature, and film in her book The Robotic Imaginary: The Human and the Price of Dehumanized Labor (University of Minnesota Press, 2018). She’s been awarded an American Council of Learned Societies fellowship for 2019 to 2020 to support her book project on digital counting technologies, race, and art.

In her research Rhee analyzes artificial intelligence and robotics technologies in relation to race, gender, and labor. More specifically, she examines the different visions of humanness that shape AI technologies and bring these technologies into conversation with theorizations of AI in speculative fiction and art. Her scholarship and teaching are in the areas of speculative fiction studies, literature and science, feminist science and technology studies, critical AI studies, and ecocritical media studies. 

Rita Raley, PhD is Professor of English at UC Santa Barbara, with courtesy appointments in Film and Media Studies, Comparative Literature, and Global Studies. Her primary research and teaching interests lie at the intersection of digital media and humanist inquiry, with an emphasis on cultural critique, artistic practices, language, and global formations. One thread that extends throughout her work concerns machine translation and machine writing, which has most recently led to publications focusing on GPT-2 and collaborative projects on Critical Machine Learning and “Critical AI.”

In addition to previous teaching positions at the University of Minnesota, Rice, and NYU, she has held fellowship and short-term residency appointments hosted by the National Humanities Center; the University of Bergen, Norway; the Dutch Foundation for Literature in Amsterdam; and UCLA, the last as part of a Mellon-funded project on the Digital Humanities. She co-edits the “Electronic Mediations” book series for the University of Minnesota Press and is an Associate Editor for ASAP/Journal.

J.D. Schnepf, PhD, is a faculty member at University of Groningen, where her research focuses on the literature and culture of the US security state, surveillance technologies, extractive infrastructures, domestic labor, and the War on Terror. Her writing has appeared and is forthcoming in academic journals including American Literature, Contemporary Literature, Feminist Media Studies, International Feminist Journal of Politics, Media + Environment, Modern Fiction Studies, Museum Anthropology, Review of International American Studies, Surveillance & Society, and American Literary History: Online Review. In addition, she has essays in the digital humanities volume titled, Humans at Work in the Digital Age: Forms of Digital Textual Labor (Routledge), and in the forthcoming collections, Drone Aesthetics: War, Culture, Ecology (Open Humanities) and The Routledge Guide to Politics and Literature in English (Routledge). Schnepf is currently at work on a book project that traces the relationship between militarized drones that maintain US imperialism overseas and cultural representations of femininity and domesticity at home. She edited a journal issue titled "Gender and Surveillance" with Dr. Molly Geidel for Review of International American Studies (RIAS) (Spring/Summer 2022).