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STS sensibilities in the study of AI nature-cultures 
ginger coons (Hogeschool Rotterdam)
Friso Van Houdt (Erasmus University Rotterdam)
Gabriele Jacobs (Erasmus University Rotterdam)
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Traditional Open Panel

Short Abstract:

Nature has historically been figured as apart from humanity. AI is often seen as ethereal. But computation requirements can be enormous and have an impact on the planet. We consider how nature-cultures contribute to understanding interrelations between humans and our kin in an era of rampant AI use.

Long Abstract:

This panel starts from the increasingly-common premise that humans are not distinct from nature, and that separating us from some kind of "out there" natural world is flawed and alienating. The hype surrounding AI treats it as ethereal and not of the physical world. Scholars and activists engaged with infrastructure studies and environmental impacts of computing show something different: the scale of computation required for AI deployment is enormous and can have a real effect on the planet. We ask: What does the concept of nature-cultures contribute to an understanding of the interrelations between humans and the rest of our kin, as we move into an era of rampant AI use? Can existing concepts from the confluence of research and policy, like the quintuple helix (government, academia, private sector, civil society, nature), support a nuanced treatment of nature-as-stakeholder in AI development? And what can the critical and attentive sensibilities of STS contribute to the relationship between humans, the rest of nature, and the current AI-hype? This panel explores the relationship between imaginaries of future AI landscapes and the importance of seeing humans and the things we make as part of nature.

We embrace the idea that nature can be part of sociotechnical systems in a non-instrumental way. STS concerns are relevant in reconciling the desire for action with the importance of avoiding the language of "impact" and other un-problematized views of progress. The convenors are concerned about this in the framework of, for example, multi-disciplinary projects addressing grand societal challenges, within the logic of funding instruments which stress the importance of multi-stakeholder collaboration while requiring codification of anticipated impacts. The inclusion of nature as a stakeholder is a necessary but thorny issue, and we see special relevance in viewing this concern through the lens of AI research and adoption.

Accepted papers:

Session 1