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Accepted Paper:

Towards an algorithmic anthropology: What can AI add to the anthropologist's toolkit?  
Matthew Adams (Brunel University)

Paper short abstract:

Can a machine learn participant observation? Could we soon see anthropologist-AI hybrids, or autonomous anthropological programmes, who will chart the new social landscapes of the metaverse? This paper will discuss the possible affordances of AI for anthropological fieldwork.

Paper long abstract:

Advancements in AI have the potential, through social media and beyond, to drastically alter human sociality. Already they are transforming the possibilities for surveillance – this in a literal, policing sense, but also in a Foucauldian sense. Thus, technologically advanced societies will become ever more deeply integrated with core ‘cyber’, even autonomous, systems. It makes sense that the anthropologists studying such societies will thus need to become adept in working with AI.

As facial recognition software grows in sophistication, it could pick up on micro-expressions during an interview, cross-reference mannerisms against stored footage, even suggest potential memetic origins therefor. In polities with mass surveillance such as China, or on platforms with vast amounts of livestreaming, eg. TikTok or Twitch, or personal data, eg. Instagram, Facebook, there is the potential for a new kind of anthropology armed with enormous data-sets and smart machine learning.

There is necessarily a debate here about privacy and permissions, but where working through algorithms alone, or only with metadata, this may be sidestepped. There are some obvious uses in surveillance and policing for algorithms trained with anthropological insights, say, to monitor complex multi-ethnic regions and social networks. Other potential uses involve the use, for instance, of medical and psychiatric anthropologists in developing algorithms that monitor users’ mental and physical health within a platform.

This paper articulates the potential of an algorithmic anthropology, its possible uses, and the ethical – indeed, some of them existential – questions it raises for the discipline as a whole.

Panel P34
Towards an algorithmic anthropology: What can AI add to the anthropologist's toolkit?
  Session 1 Friday 10 June, 2022, -