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Portrait of Orit Halpern

Orit Halpern

Short Biography
Orit Halpern is an Associate Professor in Sociology at Concordia University. Her work bridges the histories of science, computing, and cybernetics with design. She completed her Ph.D. at Harvard. She has published widely and 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 “intelligence” and decision making in post 1970’s design, economics, artificial intelligence, and the life and human sciences; the second project examines extreme infrastructures and the idea of experimentation at planetary scales in design, science, and engineering.

Panel Abstract
The Smartness Mandate – Theorizing our Nervous Present

The COVID 19 pandemic has seemingly naturalized the relationship between computation and human survival. Digital systems sustain our supply chains, labor, vaccine development, public health, and virtually every manner of social life. Nowhere has this link become more powerful then at the intersection of statistics, artificial intelligence and finance. This paper links a genealogy of neural nets through the psychologist Donald O. Hebb, economist Friedrich Hayek, and perceptron inventor Frank Rosenblatt to contemporary efforts to model and gamify markets, populations, and networks. I argue that the idea of a networked, population based, ecological cognition unifies neo-liberal governance and conceptions of cognition and intelligence through the figure of the neuron; what I label the “smartness mandate”. This imaginary has political and ethical implications for our present underpinning contemporary reactionary politics and increased volatility and precarity (for many) in economy.

Orit Halpern speaks in Panel II: Sensing Technology Narratives – Imaginaries of Intervening and Accessing by Nicole Schimkus, Alice Soiné, and Daniel Stoecker