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- AI safety on whose terms?(Science: American Association for the Advancement of Science, 2023-07-14)Rapid, widespread adoption of the latest large language models has sparked both excitement and concern about advanced artificial intelligence (AI). In response, many are looking to the field of AI safety for answers. Major AI companies are purportedly investing heavily in this young research program, even as they cut “trust and safety” teams addressing harms from current systems. Governments are taking notice too. The United Kingdom just invested £100 million in a new “Foundation Model Taskforce” and plans an AI safety summit this year. And yet, as research priorities are being set, it is already clear that the prevailing technical agenda for AI safety is inadequate to address critical questions. Only a sociotechnical approach can truly limit current and potential dangers of advanced AI.
- Biomedicalizing Genetic Health, Diseases and Identities(Routlege, 2009)As the focus of the natural sciences shifted from cellular to molecular levels over the last half of the twentieth century, the question ‘What is life?’ has increasingly been raised. Rose (2007: 6–7) recently posited a parallel epistemic shift in biomedicine from the clinical gaze to the molecular gaze such that ‘we are inhabiting an emergent form of life’. Through biomedicine, molecularisation is transforming what Foucault called ‘the conditions of possibility’ for how life can and should be lived. The emergent biomedical molecular gaze offers possibilities of changing bios – ‘life itself’ – especially, but not only, through genetics and genomics. These new biomedical practices are increasingly transforming people’s bodies, identities and lives.
- Social Text(Duke University Press, 2009)Alondra Nelson revisits “The New Right and Media,” an article from Social Text's inaugural issue that explored how “media politics” and forms of mediated, networked communication were used by conservative countermovements to advance their ideological agendas. The idea of “social textronics” is taken up from this article, revised and expanded in order to suggest how new technologies and mediated communication are—borrowing from Fredric Jameson—“a symbolic vehicle” for, and an object of, progressive critique.
- Communities on the Verge: Intersections and Disjunctures in the New Information Order(Ablex Publishing Corporation, 1997)This article examines the relationship of information technology to communities of color. In recent decades, American microelectronics firms have shifted production facilities to offshore sites while prototypic and short-term projects, research, and development have remained in places such as Silicon Valley. Assembly work that fuels the industry there, done mostly by immigrant women, closely resembles the “low tech” labor of their overseas counterparts. Despite these attachments by people of color at the level of labor and high-tech production, the same people are largely isolated from the technology on the levels of use, consumption, and content development. Some attempts have been made by marginalized communities, however, to “stake a claim in cyberspace.” Examining what anthropologist David Hess termed the social and cultural “reconstruction of technology,” we argue that attempts to claim information technologies happen on two levels: the “virtual” and the “real.” We explore questions of how community is conjured or imagined by people of color using icons and language and how images and language mark insiders and outsiders, we examine the inconsistencies in “global village” metaphors and whether communities of color betray similar inconsistencies, and we conclude that we are both critical of and optimistic about the communicative possibilities of information technology.
- Aliens Who Are Of Course Ourselves(College Art Association, 2001)The cultural theorist and novelist Albert Murray once remarked that the mandate of the black intellectual was to provide “technology” to the black community. By technology, Murray didn't mean mechanics, new media, or the Internet. Rather, he defined it as those novel analytic approaches he believed necessary to understanding black life “on a higher level of abstraction.” For Murray, this process was one of distillation and complication. He advocated theories of African American existence that, like a blueprint, would be sufficiently robust to reveal the larger patterns of society and do justice to its intricacies and complexities. By Murray's definition, the artist Laylah Ali is a technologist of the highest order. In spite of their striking clarity, her gouache images reflect the contradictions of the human condition. Ali's work explores the tragic lives of the Greenheads, her hypercephalic, thin-limbed, brown-skinned creations. Using a limited palette, she composes provocative visual fields noticeably lacking in scenery, save the humanoid figures that inhabit them. A master at sleight of hand, she uses bright comic-strip colors in a way that recalls the Sunday funnies; but these images have more in common with sardonic political cartoons, for the figures she depicts inflict all manner of insult and injury on one other. Although Ali provides no script for her images, their despair and anger is unmistakable. But there is no violent haste in her brush stroke; the images are controlled—eerily exact. As befits the work of a technician, these tortured lives are rendered with the sharpest precision.
- Computational social science: Obstacles and opportunitites(Science - American Association for the Advancement of Science, 2020)Data Sharing, research ethics, and the incentives must improve. The field of computational social science (CSS) has exploded in prominence over the past decade, with thousands of papers published using observational data, experimental designs, and large-scale simulations that were once unfeasible or unavailable to researchers. These studies have greatly improved our understanding of important phenomena, ranging from social inequality to the spread of infectious diseases. The institutions supporting CSS in the academy have also grown substantially, as evidenced by the proliferation of conferences, workshops, and summer schools across the globe, across disciplines, and across sources of data. But the field has also fallen short in important ways. Many institutional structures around the field—including research ethics, pedagogy, and data infrastructure—are still nascent. We suggest opportunities to address these issues, especially in improving the alignment between the organization of the 20th-century university and the intellectual requirements of the field.
- Socially Desirable Reporting and the Expression of Biological Concepts of Race(Cambridge University Press, 2019-10-14)In recent decades, dramatic developments in genetics research have begun to transform not only the practice of medicine but also conceptions of the social world. In the media, in popular culture, and in everyday conversation, Americans routinely link genetics to individual behavior and social outcomes. At the same time, some social researchers contend that biological definitions of race have lost ground in the United States over the last fifty years. At the crossroads of two trends—on one hand, the post-World War II recoil from biological accounts of racial difference, and on the other, the growing admiration for the advances of genetic science—the American public’s conception of race is a phenomenon that merits greater attention from sociologists than it has received to date. However, survey data on racial attitudes has proven to be significantly affected by social desirability bias. While a number of studies have attempted to measure social desirability bias with regard to racial attitudes, most have focused on racial policy preferences rather than genetic accounts of racial inequality. We employ a list experiment to create an unobtrusive measure of support for a biologistic understanding of racial inequality. We show that one in five non-Black Americans attribute income inequality between Black and White people to unspecified genetic differences between the two groups. We also find that this number is substantially underestimated when using a direct question. The magnitude of social desirability effects varies, and is most pronounced among women, older people, and the highly-educated.
- Afrofuturism(Duke University Press, 2002)Challenging mainstream technocultural assumptions of a raceless future, Afrofuturism explores culturally distinct approaches to technology. This special issue addresses the intersection between African diasporic culture and technology through literature, poetry, science fiction and speculative fiction, music, visual art, and the Internet and maintains that racial identity fundamentally influences technocultural practices. The collection includes a reflection on the ideologies of race created by cultural critics in their analyses of change wrought by the information age; an interview with Nalo Hopkinson, the award-winning novelist and author of speculative fiction novels Midnight Robber and Brown Girl in the Ring, who fuses futuristic thinking with Caribbean traditions; an essay on how contemporary R&B music presents African American reflections on the technologies of everyday life; and an article examining early interventions by the black community to carve out a distinct niche in cyberspace.
- The Science and Business of Genetic Ancestry Testing(University of California Press, 2018)Commercially available tests of genetic ancestry have significant scientific limitations, but are resious matters for many test-takers.
- The Science and Business of Genetic Ancestry Testing(American Association for the Advancement of Science, 2007)Commercially available tests of genetic ancestry have significant scientific limitations, but are serious matters for many test-takers.
- Genetics and the Unsettled Past: The Collision of DNA, Race, and History(Rutgers University Press, 2012)Our genetic markers have come to be regarded as portals to the past. Analysis of these markers is increasingly used to tell the story of human migration; to investigate and judge issues of social membership and kinship; to rewrite history and collective memory; to right past wrongs and to arbitrate legal claims and human rights controversies; and to open new thinking about health and well-being. At the same time, in many societies genetic evidence is being called upon to perform a kind of racially charged cultural work: to repair the racial past and to transform scholarly and popular opinion about the "nature" of identity in the present. "Genetics and the Unsettled Past" considers the alignment of genetic science with commercial genealogy, with legal and forensic developments, and with pharmaceutical innovation to examine how these trends lend renewed authority to biological understandings of race and history. This unique collection brings together scholars from a wide range of disciplines-biology, history, cultural studies, law, medicine, anthropology, ethnic studies, sociology-to explore the emerging and often contested connections among race, DNA, and history. Written for a general audience, the book's essays touch upon a variety of topics, including the rise and implications of DNA in genealogy, law, and other fields; the cultural and political uses and misuses of genetic information; the way in which DNA testing is reshaping understandings of group identity for French Canadians, Native Americans, South Africans, and many others within and across cultural and national boundaries; and the sweeping implications of genetics for society today.
- The 'Longue Durée' of Black Lives Matter(American Journal of Public Health, 2016)Black Lives Matter was first articulated just a few years ago, but it has been the leitmotif of antiracist struggles for generations. The Movement for Black Lives extends the work of previous movements that challenged forms of oppression that act on Black bodies with impunity. It should be understood in the context of Ida B. Wells’ anti-lynching campaign, Fannie Lou Hamer’s reproductive justice demands, and the Black Panther Party’s health activism. The 50th anniversary of the Black Panther Party is an occasion to recall that its work confronted the callous neglect and the corporeal surveillance and abuse of poor Black communities. Similar demands have been the centrifugal force of social movements that for centuries have refused to have Black lives cast beyond the human boundary. Black Lives Matter was first articulated as an affirmation, a declaration, and an exclamation just a few years ago, but it has been the leitmotif of antiracist struggles for generations. The Movement for Black Lives (M4BL) bloomed from the seeds of earlier, protracted struggles to attain a full measure of social, political, and physical well-being. The healing practices of enslaved Africans, for example, challenged a plantation culture concerned with whether their bodies were “sound”(p15–35) enough to labor rather than with their whole healthfulness—a paradox of power described by journalist–activist Ida B. Wells as “dwarf[ing] the soul and preserv[ing] the body”(p75).
- "Genuine Struggle and Care": An Interview with Cleo Silvers(American Journal of Public Health, 2016)Philadelphia native Cleo Silvers moved to New York City to take up a VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) post in the mid-1960s. In the course of her VISTA service, she was awakened to the extreme deprivation faced by many Blacks and Latinos in Manhattan and the Bronx, New York. This experience also occasioned a political awakening in Silvers, who sought to systematically understand the social and economic inequality she witnessed and how to upend it. Following her VISTA service, she worked as a community mental health worker at Lincoln Hospital in the Bronx. She also joined the Black Panther Party in Harlem, New York. As a Panther, her work included conducting neighborhood health surveys and door-to-door testing for sickle cell anemia and lead poisoning and being a patient advocate in its clinic. Silvers later became a member of the Young Lords Party and played a role in its takeover of Lincoln Hospital in the South Bronx. In more recent years, Silvers served as executive director of For a Better Bronx, a community-based social and environmental justice organization. She recently retired from a position as a community outreach director at a leading New York City medical center. Silvers speaks here with Alondra Nelson, PhD, a sociologist and historian who has documented the Black Panther Party’s health activism, about the formative experiences that led her into five decades of health advocacy—an activism notable for its insistence on the inextricable links between health and socioeconomic well-being.