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The Smartness Mandate: Neo-liberalism, Artificial Intelligence, and Politics

Thursday Lecture Series, Alternatives/Concessions

dateApril 25, 2024 timeThursday, 12:15pm–2:00pm EDT location The Heyman Center, Second Floor Common Room, Columbia University

This event has been canceled.

  • The Society of Fellows and Heyman Center for the Humanities
email address [email protected]
  • Free and open to the public
  • Registration required.
Blue vials and Asymptote Architecture

This talk interrogates the history of models of decision-making and agency in machine learning, neo-liberal economic thought, and finance in order to understand how reactionary politics, civil rights, and technology are being reformulated in our present. While the relationship between the Right, post-truth, suggestion algorithms, and social media has long been documented, rarely has there been extensive investigation of how ideas of choice and freedom become recast in a manner amenable to machine automation, financialization, and to particular brands of post-1970s alt-right discourses. An analysis of this history demonstrates a new logic within algorithmic and artificial intelligent rationalities that intersects with, but is also not merely a repetition of, earlier histories of reason, eugenics, sexism, and racism. This situation provokes serious challenges to political action, but also to our theorization of democracy, collectivity, and diversity.


Orit Halpern is Full Professor and Chair of Digital Cultures at Technische Universität Dresden. Her work bridges the histories of science, computing, and cybernetics with design. She completed her Ph.D. at Harvard. She has held numerous visiting scholar positions including at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin, IKKM Weimar, and at Duke University. She is currently working on two projects. The first is a history of automation, intelligence, and freedom; the second project examines extreme infrastructures and the history of experimentation at planetary scales in design, science, and engineering.

She has also published widely in many venues including Critical Inquiry, Grey Room, and Journal of Visual Culture, and E-Flux. Her first book Beautiful Data: A History of Vision and Reason (Duke UP 2015) investigates histories of big data, design, and governmentality. Her current book with Robert Mitchell (forthcoming MIT Press December 2022) is titled the Smartness Mandate. The book is a genealogy of our current obsession with smart technologies and artificial intelligence.

Please email [email protected] to request disability accommodations. Advance notice is necessary to arrange for some accessibility needs.

Image information: Asymptote Architecture (Hani Rashid, Lise Anne Couture), “3DTF Virtual NYSE,” 1999. Asymptote Architecture New York Stock Exchange project records, Press kit for Three Dimensional Trading Floor, AP184.S1.061. Gift of Asymptote, Canadian Centre for Architecture © Asymptote.