“Intelligence” in the Absence of Life

When and Where

Tuesday, April 09, 2024 9:30 am to 7:00 pm
Room 100
Jackman Humanities Building
170 St. George St., Toronto, ON, M5R 2M8


Paris Marx
Elke Schwarz
Lucy Suchman
Ron Deibert


Join us for this one day workshop! Those who work in the artificial intelligence industry routinely speak of AI as human-like, but what does it mean to speak of creativity or intelligence or ethics in the absence of life? From the restructuring of labour to AI weapons systems to civil accountability, these talks open a conversation about what gets obscured in the AI hype cycle. This workshop is organized and moderated by Teresa Heffernan, JHI’s 2023-24 Visiting Public Humanities Faculty Fellow.

Note: the schedule has been updated slightly since it was originally published

9:30 to 9:40—Welcome: Alison Keith, Director, Jackman Humanities Institute
9:40 to 9:45—Introduction: Teresa Heffernan
9:45 to 11:00—Paris Marx
11:00 to 11:15—15-minute coffee break
11:15 to 12:30—Elke Schwarz
12:30-1:45—Lunch break (Free time. Lunch not provided)
1:45 to 2:00—Welcome Back and Introduction: Teresa Heffernan
2:00-3:15—Lucy Suchman
3:15 to 3:30—15-minute coffee break
3:30 to 4:45—Ron Deibert
4:45 to 5:00—Close: Teresa Heffernan

5:00 to 6:30—Reception

Registration is requested

Paris Marx: Don't Buy the AI Fantasy

Since the launch of ChatGPT, it's been impossible to escape talk of artificial intelligence and the many ways it might change the world. But those ideas were framed by tech companies to get people excited about a product they want to sell to the public. Paris Marx presents the reality of AI technologies and the threats they pose not just for artists, but for workers across the economy and the world. AI is just the latest example of the industry using the language of liberation to get us to believe in a project that works against our interests.

Bio: Paris Marx is a Canadian technology journalist, author, podcaster, and critic with articles written for Time, Wired, NBC News, and other publications. Marx is the author of Road to Nowhere: What Silicon Valley Gets Wrong about the Future of Transportation (Verso Books) and hosts the award-winning Tech Industry-critical podcast Tech Won't Save Us.

Elke Schwarz: Ethics in Absentia: The Curious Absence of the Human in Moral Reasoning about AI Weapons

As the spectre of lethal AI-enabled weapons systems looms large on the current military horizon, the question of ethics becomes one of utmost urgency. How might one consider the ethics of AI weapons? A range of ethical approaches have been mobilized in solving this task, some of them drawing on the famous Trolley Problem to find answers, in which the human become little more than a (technologically enhanced) variable. This abstraction of the human is not accidental, but precisely the point. Abstraction decouples empathy from action. It also serves to render the ‘rational’ comprehensible only to mathematically savvy experts or analytic philosophers who provide the appropriate formular for action. I argue that contemporary approaches to military AI ethics have a longer history of abstracting the human from the concept of humanity in favour of reading human life in purely functional terms, so as to render it suitable for cybernetic frames. This longer history of evacuating the human from the moral equation of violent technologies, I argue, stems from a confluence of cybernetic reasoning and nuclear violence in the 1940s and 1950s and has at its core a game-theoretic mode of rationale that has come to underwrite much of today’s reasoning about AI-enabled warfare.

Bio: Elke Schwarz is a Reader in political theory at Queen Mary University of London.  She is the author of Death Machines: The Ethics of Violent Technologies (2018) and a 2024 Leverhulme research fellow, and a member of the International Committee for Robot Arms Control. Her research focuses on the intersection of the ethics of war and the ethics of technology with an emphasis on unmanned and autonomous/intelligent military technologies and their impact on the politics of contemporary warfare.

Lucy Suchman: Absent Presences in Military Imaginaries of AI-enabled Warfighting

Tracking 21st century militarism’s ongoing commitments to a closed world, this talk considers the constitutive outsides of the AI-enabled military machine through a critical examination of the current U.S. Department of Defense project of Joint All Domain Command and Control (JADC2). Existing primarily in the realms of technopolitical imaginary and speculative investment, JADC2 conjoins sociotechnologies of surveillance, mapping, categorization, and enumeration in data platforms whose interfaces promise privileged access to warfighting’s world. I trace the absent presences that haunt this promise and the challenges to it based on critical scholarship, investigative journalism, creative diplomacy, and veteran activism, which together provide evidence for the continued escape of conflict from the frames of rational action and control on which militarism depends.

Bio: Lucy Suchman is Professor Emerita of the Anthropology of Science and Technology at Lancaster University in the UK. Before taking up that post she was a Principal Scientist at Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Center (PARC), where she spent twenty years as a researcher. Her current research extends her longstanding critical engagement with the fields of artificial intelligence and human-computer interaction to the domain of contemporary militarism. She is concerned with the question of whose bodies are incorporated into military systems, how and with what consequences for social justice and the possibility for a less violent world.

Ron Deibert: AI and the Absence of Civil Accountability

Artificial Intelligence systems have become quickly embedded in a wide range of social, political, and economic activities, with much more looming on the horizon. Many of these applications are obscured from the public, either because of secrecy on the part of implementing agencies, such as law enforcement, or proprietary controls exercised by firms who develop AI. In my talk, I will describe the importance of digital accountability research in the public interest to help lift the lid on the use of AI, highlighting some investigations undertaken by the Citizen Lab on the topic. I will outline some legal and other risks to digital accountability research before concluding with some recommendations to protect and preserve public interest research on AI and other digital technologies.

Bio: Ron Deibert is Professor of Political Science, and the founder and Director of the Citizen Lab at the Munk School of Global Affairs & Public Policy, University of Toronto. The Citizen Lab is an interdisciplinary laboratory focusing on research, development, and high-level strategic policy and legal engagement at the intersection of information and communication technologies, human rights, and global security. Among his many awards is the Order of Canada in 2022 and among  his many authored reports, editorial works and books is Reset: Reclaiming the Internet for Civil Society, based on his Massey Lectures, which won the 2021 Shaughnessy Cohen Prize for Political Writing.   



Jackman Humanities Institute


170 St. George St., Toronto, ON, M5R 2M8