Oral Presentation Session
Reviewed by: Society for Medical Anthropology
Of interest to: Practicing and Applied Anthropologists, Students
Primary Theme: Health
Secondary Theme: Citizenship
The recent Facebook data spills and the lesser-circulated Grindr HIV status data breach confirms that the European-style social contract between governments, corporations, NGOs, and individual persons is inadequate for mediating present day sociocultural dynamics across all societies. Despite widespread acceptance of its failure world leaders have struggled to propose a new contract. Ironically, and perhaps uncannily, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg (in)famously called for a new social contract in his Harvard commencement speech last May. Specifically regarding biomedical ethics and global health, media platforms have signaled they are exploring the possibility of collecting health information, including Facebook, Uber, and Lyft. These global tech companies are the face of “big data”. However, within global health, similar types of data culling and pooling processing have been taking place or more than half a century. The difference between social media companies and global health organizations and experts is that global biomedical actors take bioethical precautions as part and parcel of their work. This panel will explore how these two opposing organizational cultures collect, share, and sell data and how comparing them may be a catalyst for an emergent social contract; one that governments and individual persons must also decide upon its terms, not just corporations, which have been put in the awkward position of privatizing public goods, such as classification schemes. It is precisely these schemes and their attendant ideologies that determine the shape and scope of connectivities and circulatory capitalisms. In other words, ideologies are a type of algorithm; they silently presort and categorize raw data in ways scholars will be required to tease out. The papers in this panel will examine the sociocultural ideologies that are being silently embedded in technoscientific objects in the Age of Algorithm.
To be sure, the forms of quantification, measurement, qualculation, and interpretation, all of which is not to mention artificial intelligence (AI / machine learning) are primary tools in the creation and maintenance of such a contract. Further, they all influence and are influenced by the logic of algorithm—which is to say non-human entities designed by humans whose agency, subject position, and disciplinary or field-specific biases are subsequently erased as the algorithm takes on a life of its own. This panel will explore forms of value production as well as circulation and consider how the “labor” of algorithms has come to be such a significant actor in this process. Questions of valuation are also necessarily questions of ethics. Panelists are urged to explore the following and more: What ethical paradigms are dominant in the social and natural sciences? How are those paradigms inadequate to the task of building a “new” social contract? How must they change? What happens to the margins? What would marginal (in place of normative) ethics look like?