Paper short abstract:
This paper looks at how anthropologists can interact with automated data analytics technologies; and, more specifically, how to deal with the issues of scale that arise in dealing with millions of informants simultaneously. The paper puts forth a posthuman solution which envisions integrating and co-calibrating algorithmic analysis with ethnographic experience.
Paper long abstract:
The use of artificial intelligence technologies is allowing our generation to more easily tap into vast online databases and find patterns that can help us better understand human behavior. Marketers, financiers and medical doctors are increasingly relying on these tools to make advances in their relative fields. Where does anthropology stand in relation to these technologies? There is an obvious lack of intimacy here that daunts many practitioners and makes them reluctant to use these technologies.
Yet, this paper will argue that the phenomenon is now so vast that anthropology cannot avoid being influenced by, and engaging with, this "new connectedness". The approach put forth here proposes to do so by 1) modeling our epistemological frameworks into the technology's models, and 2) constantly problematizing the models' outcomes against local knowledges. A conventional ethnographic appraisal of the knowledge systems involved is, in fact, fundamental to the continual recalibration of a model's heuristics, effectively transforming the concept of machine learning into one of human/machine learning.
The paper illustrates this approach with some examples, in addition to exploring issues such as the relation between the anthropologist and artificial intelligence, the implications of gathering information without a physical presence, how we can compensate for that absence, and how we can define the field when the field is essentially just an enormous quantity of data. The paper also reviews recent debates in anthropological theory surrounding the issue of artificial intelligence and the broader role of the anthropologist in contemporary digital sociality.
The post human: what is it good for? Anthropological perspectives