Sareeta Amrute

Sareeta Amrute

Data & Society and University of Washington

Zachary Lieberman

Zach Lieberman

School for Poetic Computation

Simon Roberts

Simon Roberts

Stripe Partners

Sareeta Amrute

Sunday, 10 November, 9:30–10:30, RISD Auditorium

Tech Colonialism Today

Studies on the social effects of computing have enumerated the harms done by AI, social media, and algorithmic decision-making to underrepresented communities in the United States and around the globe. I argue that the approaches of enumerating harms and arguing for inclusion have to be unsettled. These approaches, while important, frame populations as victims whose existence is dominated by and divided from centers of power. We lack a structural analysis of how these harms fit into a larger social economic pattern. I ask us to consider instead whether all of these harms add up to computing technologies today being one of the largest aspects of a colonial relationship today. Using historical evidence, the talk will consider what makes something ‘colonial’ to begin with, and then weigh corporate computing’s relationship with the world to gauge whether this relationship is a colonial one. Based on historical and contemporary evidence, I will ask, What can those of us who work in, and maybe even love, computing cultures do about computing’s colonial expansions? Rather than offering a checklist of do’s and don’t’s, the talk will end with a series of experiments to try in local contexts, as well as ways to rethink computing’s relationship with the world.

Sareeta Amrute is the Director of Research at Data & Society and Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of Washington, Seattle. Her research is focused on the integration of humans and technologies, particularly how race and class are revisited and remade in sites of new economy work such as coding and software economies.

Sareeta’s recent book Encoding Race, Encoding Class: Indian IT Workers in Berlin, is a rich ethnographic study of the relationship between labor, Indian technical work, and migration regimes in global corporate coding work. She shows how “knowledge work” or “cognitive labor” are deeply embodied, materialized, and racialized in the everyday practices of work and the larger context of workers’ lives. The book was awarded 2017 Diana Forsythe Prize in the anthropology of science, technology, and medicine, awarded jointly by the Committee for the Anthropology of Science, Technology and Computing and the Society for the Anthropology of Work.

Sareeta has also published on humor, ethics, violence against women in cars in India, and the racial harassment of programmers in the United States. She is currently developing an illustrated guide to ethics in technology industries and pursuing new research on labor and cashlessness as a capitalist and developmentalist project for India. Sareeta received her PhD in Anthropology from the University of Chicago and her BA in Art History from Columbia University.

Zach Lieberman

Monday, 11 November, 5:15–6:15, RISD Auditorium

Zach Lieberman is an artist, researcher and educator with a simple goal: he wants you surprised. In his work, he creates performances and installations that take human gesture as input and amplify them in different ways—making drawings come to life, imagining what the voice might look like if we could see it, transforming peoples silhouettes into music. He’s been listed as one of Fast Company’s Most Creative People and his projects have won the Golden Nica from Ars Electronica, Interactive Design of the Year from Design Museum London as well as listed in Time Magazine’s Best Inventions of the Year. He creates artwork through writing software, is a co-creator of openFrameworks, an open source C++ toolkit for creative coding, and helped co-found the School for Poetic Computation, a school examining the lyrical possibilities of code. His website is and he’s active on Instagram and Twitter.

Simon Roberts

Tuesday, 12 November, 9:30–10:30, RISD Auditorium

Distant Cousins? Minds, Bodies and Machines

It was several centuries ago that the body was spirited out of conversations about intelligence. The mind-body dualism continues to exert strong influence on the world today—in fields as diverse as education, marketing, politics and technology. The Enlightenment, the industrial revolution and now AI and automation have all, in their own ways, sanctified the mind and downgraded the body.

Yet a host of disciplines from beyond anthropology and philosophy, such as neuroscience and cognitive science, are now concurring with the idea that the body is more than just the locus of our experience of the world. As the idea of embodied cognition holds, the body is the source of, and a condition for, our intelligence. Indeed, the recent rapid advances in AI and robotics have been made in large part due to this turn towards the idea of the embodied mind.

The body is at the heart of human capabilities like pattern recognition, adaptability, improvisation and our ability to respond to the dynamic world around us. Any view of intelligence that ignores the mind is a constrained one and, I will suggest, intelligence without embodiment is a chimera.

My talk will explore emerging theories and science that helps put the body back into our conversation about intelligence and knowledge and will look at the powerful evidence that explains the mechanisms underlying the body’s contributions. I will also consider what this means for our practice—how we engage with the world in research—and more generally where the body could and should fit into discussions about agency.

An anthropologist, Simon Roberts considers himself to have the best job in the world: researching the emerging frontiers of people and technology and trying to land that understanding with impact in complex environments. His career began with a PhD on the satellite TV revolution in mid 1990s India. He started the UK’s first dedicated ethnographic research company, Ideas Bazaar before leading an R&D team at Intel’s Digital Health Group. In 2013, Simon co-founded Stripe Partners, a strategy and innovation consultancy which support teams working on near-term product launches and longer-range strategy engagements. We help our clients decide what to do now and what to do next.

Simon has long been connected with the world of business anthropology and first attended EPIC in 2005 when it was a small ‘coming out party’ for practitioners looking for like-minded people. In the years since he’s curated, reviewed, attended and chaired the conference in Savannah and London. He writes and speaks widely on anthropology, ethnography and technology, and his work has been covered by Bloomberg, The Financial Times, Wall Street Journal, BBC Radio 4, Quartz, and The Daily Telegraph. His book on embodied knowledge, Hard Wired: How Our Bodies Acquire Knowledge and Why We Should Learn to Trust our Instincts, will be published by Bonnier in 2020. He’s also written an important body of work on