Emanuel Moss

Grant Type

Dissertation Fieldwork Grant

Institutional Affiliation

New York, Baruch College, City U. of

Grant number

Gr. 9614

Approve Date

April 13, 2018

Project Title

Moss, Emanuel D., City U. of New York, Graduate Center, NY - To aid research on 'The Objective Function: Science and Society in the Age of Machine Intelligence,' supervised by Dr. Karen Strassler

Preliminary abstract: Data scientists work with big data and algorithms to produce a form of machine intelligence that relies on predictive power for its authority. In contrast to other forms of knowledge production that rest on causal theories of events, machine intelligence depends on correlation to produce a form of knowledge that appears to mechanically and immediately flow directly from data. Through an ethnography of data scientists working in the U.S., my project will explore how machine intelligence is constructed, revealing how the practices, assumptions and positionalities of data scientists shape this seemingly neutral, mechanical knowledge and the tools it enables. Through extensive fieldwork, I will document the work that goes into building machine intelligence, the experiences of data scientists laboring on these technologies, and how this work is erased from the final product of this work to seem as if data speaks for itself. This project will make legible the economic, ethical, affective, and ideological forces that shape these technologies and knowledges and show that while machine intelligence may seem impenetrable and mysterious, it is shaped by contingent practices that are deeply social. Modeling human behavior and coding human types, data science can be seen as a newly potent way that society represents itself to itself, long an anthropological concern. I will ask what is new about this mode of social knowledge production and how its authority is constructed.