We’re thrilled to announce our new Co-Opting AI Book series, helmed by series editor Mona Sloane!
Co-Opting AI will be a new series of compact books for readers to better understand the social dimension of AI. Co-opting the hype around so-called “artificial intelligence,” these books ask bigger questions, addressing the key issues we face at the dawn of the new century, be it inequality and in/justice; the future of work; democracy and governance; the climate emergency; the economy; education; health; and the physical spaces we inhabit.
Bringing together forward-thinking scholars, journalists, innovators, and activists, each short and timely book will start with a thematic prompt, such as “Body”, “Science”, “Diplomacy”, “Climate”, “Military”, “Language”, or “Agriculture.”
For the 2023 annual meeting of the Society for Social Studies of Science (4S), we are delighted to share a conversation between our technology studies editor Michelle Lipinski and Co-Opting AI series editor Mona Sloane about the goal of the series, and what types of projects Mona is looking for.
Mona Sloane, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor of Data Science and Media Studies at the University of Virginia (UVA). As a sociologist, she studies the intersection of technology and society, specifically in the context of AI design, use, and policy. She also convenes the Co-Opting AI series and serves as the Technology Editor for Public Books. At UVA, Mona runs Sloane Lab which conducts empirical research on the implications of technology for the organization of social life. Its focus lies on AI as a social phenomenon that intersects with wider cultural, economic, material, and political conditions. The lab spearheads social science leadership in applied work on responsible AI, public scholarship, and technology policy.
Michelle Lipinski is senior editor for technology studies and economics books at UC Press. With over a decade of experience acquiring and editing books across a range of social sciences, Michelle develops trade and academic nonfiction books with authors, providing hands-on guidance and industry expertise to ensure their research moves from the page into robust public or scholarly conversations. Before joining UC, Michelle acquired on various lists at Stanford and Oxford University Presses.
What inspired you to develop the Co-Opting AI series, and what most excites you about it?
The idea of the Co-Opting AI series came about years ago, when the AI hype was gaining strong momentum, alongside a phenomenon we now call “ethics washing”: a superficial engagement with the social, political, and material impacts of AI systems. There was a lot of virtue-signaling going on, without much focus on the deployment of AI systems that are actually (re)shaping people’s lives.
There is a real risk that comes with these kind of trends. Abstract, rather than concrete conversations about AI leave people in the dark and hinder a more democratic engagement with the potentials and pitfalls of AI. We should all have a say in what we want our (socio-technical) future to look like. In early 2019, I hosted the very first Co-Opting AI event at NYU’s Institute for Public Knowledge, and the lecture series has been going strong ever since, with conversations focusing on work, justice, race, security, food, games, and more.
The book series expands upon these initial conversations. The books will be a unique, separate, and more in-depth contribution—a way to reach a broad audience and give readers a tool to better understand what is really going on at the many intersections of AI and society.
The series is described as a way for “readers to better understand the social dimension of AI.” Could you elaborate on this a bit?
AI has become infrastructure for organizing society. The impacts of this are vast, but poorly understood. Often invisible, AI systems play a role in decisions that are being made about access to the labor market, financial security, insurance premiums, policing patterns, and much more. How social media’s AI-driven recommender systems can affect opinions or even mental health are a good example. By focusing on what “social impact” means for an individual topic or domain (for example agriculture or education), each Co-Opting AI book will peel back the layers of abstraction and provide a real window into a particular intersection of AI and society.
How will these books contribute to or build on the current conversation about AI?
The current conversation on AI oscillates between utopia and dystopia. We have seen that very recently with the introduction of generative AI and renewed narratives that are split and either take the form of fears of the “robot takeover”, or a more utopian idea of AI systems making every aspect of our lives easier. The books will add nuance to the AI debate and ground it in a better understanding how people integrate AI into their social lives.
Why short books? Why does each book start with a thematic prompt?
Short books are fun! Each will have conceptual rigor and will ask big questions about AI and society, but they will also be clear, accessible, and bound by the theme – allowing for a very focused look at a particular topic. That means that these books are designed to be read by anybody who has an interest in the topic, even if that interest is not about AI per se. It also means that these books will make great additions to syllabi across various disciplines, from the humanities and social sciences to STEM.
What different perspectives and expertise do you hope authors will bring to the series?
I am looking to feature a very diverse pool of authors: people from different backgrounds, with different lived experiences, and with different disciplinary backgrounds. I particularly welcome proposals from authors from the “Majority World.” And authors do not have to be in the academy! Journalists, policymakers, activists, and others are encouraged to submit proposals. Authors should have extensive expertise in the topic they wish to write about and be able to examine how it is affected by AI.
What should authors do if they are interested in submitting to the series?
Authors who are interested in submitting to the series should identify a topical area that frames their book and write up an initial pitch outlining how they would write about it. The pitch should not exceed 500 words and be sent to Mona Sloane and Michelle Lipinski, along with a short CV that includes a list of publications.