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Transformation of agency (in the age of machine intelligence) 
Marcus Burkhardt (University of Siegen)
Karin Knorr Cetina (University of Chicago)
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Hendrik Bender (University of Siegen)
Susanne Förster (University of Siegen)
Traditional Open Panel

Short Abstract:

Recent advances in machine learning gave rise to new forms of agentic technologies that reshape sociocultural dynamics. We invite contributions that explore the transformations of agency on multiple levels, e.g. human-machine interaction, social-synthetic structures, and alternative AI designs.

Long Abstract:

Recent advances in machine and deep learning led to the proliferation of digital entities that elude established conceptualizations and categorizations of technologies as mere tools, instruments, resources, or mediators. As technologies that are capable of acting semi-autonomously in changing environments, synthetic agents have found their way into a wide variety of fields of practice, and they are exceedingly diverse in form and appearance: It ranges from algorithms in high-frequency trading to intelligent personal assistants, customer relationship chatbots, image and text generating AI models to semi-autonomous cars, drones, robots, smart factories, and autonomous laboratories.

The spread of agentic technologies is both an ongoing process and driver of social and cultural transformations that manifest themselves on different levels. It is also a process that affects the scope and roles of human agency. The panel invites contributions that specifically examine the dynamics and consequences of these transformations. The questions we propose can be addressed through a wide variety of approaches including case studies and quantitative computational and historical studies. They include but are not limited to the following levels and dimensions:

- The transformation of agency is an ongoing process and accomplishment. We invite studies that illustrate this accomplishment and the mechanisms manifest in it.

- What distributions of agency emerge between human and synthetic agents, and which models of human-machine interaction and modes of participation appear implemented in them?

- When whole settings take on agentic features (an example is smart factories), what social-synthetic structures and rules emerge in these processes?

- What negotiations, resistances and subversions mark transformations of agency, with what legal, organizational, and personal consequences? What critical engagements can STS offer to this?

- We also invite investigations that engage with the design of alternatives to current modes of AI by large tech companies.

Accepted papers: