Postponed: Robotic Storytellers: Appreciating the Algorithms that Make Us Who We Are

Wednesday, November 17, 2021
12:00 pm to 1:00 pm PST

Dr. David Robinson

This event has been postponed in solidarity with the UC lecturers’ strike. It will be rescheduled for a later date.

Sponsored by the Algorithmic Fairness and Opacity Group (AFOG).

The world is crowded with algorithms that tell stories about who people are. In addition to their powerful influence over life’s turning points — such as lending, hiring, and school admissions — these “robotic storytellers” shift how we perceive each other, and even how we imagine ourselves.

The appeal of such systems depends not only on recent technological advances, but also on a belief that may be among the most ancient and natural of all human illusions: that a durable inner essence makes each of us who we are, is expressed through our behavior, and renders us predictable. Many close observers reject this intuitively appealing idea, ranging from Buddhist monastics to social psychologists and neuroscientists, to philosophers and advocates at the front lines of today’s debates over gender and identity. Such thinking suggests that robotic biographies are not so much descriptions of people as enchantments — stories that can make themselves come true. They work, as the philosopher Sally Haslanger has put it, “more like a script than a map.”

I will explore what it could mean to take these arguments seriously in the context of daily life, offering a perspective in which robotic storytellers are both more powerful and more flexible than they often appear. The process of building robotic storytellers — of creating systems that judge people — re-emerges, when seen through this lens, as a deeply creative undertaking.

Join the webinar

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David Robinson is a visiting scholar at UC Berkeley's Social Science Matrix. He has held research and teaching appointments at Cornell and Georgetown, and was a cofounder of Upturn, an NGO focused on equity and justice in the design and governance of new technology.

David Robinson
David Robinson


If you have questions about this event, please contact Deirdre Mulligan.

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Deirdre Mulligan
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Last updated:

November 16, 2021