17 Apr 2024
16:15  - 18:00

Münsterplatz 19

Institute of Social Anthropology

Kolloquium / Seminar

Data, Facts, Materiality

Presentation by Alec Bălășescu (Royal Roads University Canada)

Data is the oil of Artificial Intelligence, and the unquestioned belief that data perfectly reflects reality is the basis of the mostly indiscriminate adoption of AI. But when exactly in history numbers came to mean “truth”? How data, facts and reality have been brought together under the roof of natural laws, with the simple assertion “this is how nature works”? And what are the effects of this belief? Up to now, the history and the core of this belief have rarely been questioned, despite numerous calls to both address bias in algorithm design.

The ethical dilemmas surrounding AI have seldom been connected with this unshakeable belief that numbers are perfect mirrors of reality, and, by implication, of natural phenomena. This same belief is also at the core of Silicon Valley culture and lifestyle, making it desirable for the rest of the world. It perpetuates itself inside AI labs, and outside in the gyms, coffee shops, health stores, and hang-outs that reflects to the letter the concept of manageable bodies performing in a managed “natural” environment. 

This presentation aims to re-assess the relationship between numbers, materiality, data and facts from an anthropological perspective, by looking at both the history of the relationship between numbers and the reality they depict, and by relating to the methods of “making sense” of data as cultural processes. 


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