Looking back: "Social Justice and Technological Futures"

The Cen­ter for Rhet­or­ic­al Sci­ence Com­mu­nic­a­tion Research on Arti­fi­cial Intel­li­gence (RHET AI Cen­ter), togeth­er with the Inter­na­tion­al Cen­ter for Eth­ics in the Sci­ences and Human­it­ies (IZEW) and the Col­lab­or­at­ive Research Cen­ter 923 "Threatened Orders" at the Uni­ver­sity of Tübin­gen, hos­ted a sym­posi­um on "Social Justice and Tech­no­lo­gic­al Futures" on May 2nd and 3rd, 2023. Research­ers and prac­ti­tion­ers from around the world were invited to the "Alte Aula" in Tübin­gen to dis­cuss the glob­al con­nec­tions between social, cul­tur­al, polit­ic­al, and eco­nom­ic injustices caused by new tech­no­lo­gies. For two days, the par­ti­cipants used the sym­posi­um as a plat­form to exchange views on the the­ory of justice and future-ori­ented per­spect­ives. The RHET AI Cen­ter par­ti­cip­ated with three inter­na­tion­al speak­ers from South Africa, Brazil and Colombia/Spain, an insti­tu­tion­al wel­come, its own them­at­ic pan­el and the screen­ing of a them­at­ic­ally rel­ev­ant film as part of the sup­port­ing program.

The sym­posi­um was opened by the heads of the organ­iz­ing insti­tu­tions: Prof. Dr. Regina Ammicht Quinn (IZEW), Prof. Dr. Olaf Kramer (RHET AI Cen­ter) and Prof. Dr. Astrid Franke (Col­lab­or­at­ive Research Cen­ter 923 "Threatened Orders"). After­wards, Leica J. Brooks of the South­ern Poverty Law Cen­ter spoke with Regina Ammicht Quinn about the main theme of the sym­posi­um: Social Justice.

In the first them­at­ic pan­el on "Eth­ics, Eco­nomy, Equal­ity", Koli­we Majama (Moz­illa Found­a­tion, Zim­b­ab­we), Sofia Scas­serra (Tres de Feb­rero Uni­ver­sity, Argen­tina) and Dr. Scott Tim­cke (ICT Research Africa, South Africa) con­trib­uted crit­ic­al reflec­tions on glob­al devel­op­ments in the con­text of arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence. Dr. Scott Tim­cke, who came to Tübin­gen at the invit­a­tion of the RHET AI Cen­ter, drew atten­tion in his present­a­tion to the "slow viol­ence" to which the coun­tries of the Glob­al South are exposed through the cur­rent prac­tices of the AI industry. Dr. Lou Brand­ner of the IZEW mod­er­ated the pan­el on eth­ic­al issues and led the sub­sequent discussion.

Tübin­gen-based media schol­ar Dr. Anne Burkhardt, postdoc at the RHET AI Cen­ter and expert in deco­lo­ni­al the­or­ies and arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence with a spe­cial interest in audi­ovisu­al AI dis­courses in the Glob­al South, mod­er­ated the RHET AI pan­el "AI, Ima­gin­a­tion, and Cre­ativ­ity" in the after­noon. It was opened by Colom­bi­an dir­ect­or and film pro­du­cer Jorge Caballero Ramos, who researches AI and film at the Uni­ver­sity Pom­peu Fabra in Bar­celona and runs the Colom­bi­an-Span­ish pro­duc­tion com­pany Gusano Films. Using selec­ted film examples, he explained how arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence is revo­lu­tion­iz­ing cre­at­ive work with (mov­ing) images and rede­fin­ing the bound­ar­ies of cre­ativ­ity. The behind-the-scenes look at his films showed how arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence can be used to improve scripts and dia­logues, to ana­lyze visu­al mater­i­al, to cre­ate anim­a­tions, or in film edit­ing, and what oppor­tun­it­ies this opens up for pro­duc­tions from the Glob­al South in par­tic­u­lar — for example, in terms of fin­an­cial resources.

The second speak­er on the pan­el was Joana Varon from Brazil, Exec­ut­ive Dir­ect­or and "Cre­at­ive Chaos Cata­lyst" of the fem­in­ist organ­iz­a­tion Cod­ing Rights, Fel­low of Tech­no­logy and Human Rights at the Carr Cen­ter for Human Rights Policy at Har­vard Kennedy School, and mem­ber of the Berkman Klein Cen­ter for Inter­net and Soci­ety at Har­vard Uni­ver­sity. In their act­iv­ist work, Varon and her col­leagues not only fight against struc­tur­al inequal­it­ies (such as gender or the North-South divide), but also devel­op altern­at­ive — fairer, more diverse and hol­ist­ic — vis­ions of new tech­no­lo­gies. The return to nature and indi­gen­ous cul­tures as well as the decol­on­iz­a­tion of tech­no­logy (ima­gin­a­tions) play a cent­ral role. These are expressed in visu­al­iz­a­tions and vari­ous digit­al formats that Varon and her team design and dis­trib­ute online.

To con­clude the first day of the sym­posi­um, the Gusano Films pro­duc­tion Robin Bank (dir­ect­or: Anna Gir­alt Gris; pro­du­cer: Jorge Caballero Ramos) was screened at the Arsen­al cinema. Robin Bank is a doc­u­ment­ary about the Catalan "hackt­iv­ist" Enric Dur­an, who suc­ceeded in rob­bing the big banks and their cred­it sys­tem of half a mil­lion euros based on stock mar­ket spec­u­la­tion, which he donated to act­iv­ist causes. The sub­sequent audi­ence dis­cus­sion with the film's pro­du­cer, mod­er­ated by Dr. Anne Burkhardt, focused on the ques­tion of wheth­er Duran's illeg­al actions can appear eth­ic­ally legit­im­ate, and to what extent glob­al­ized and increas­ingly tech­no­lo­gized hyper­cap­it­al­ism can — and should — be beaten at its own game.