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Talking AI into Being: The narratives and imaginaries of national AI strategies and their performative politics

Author: Bareis, J., & Katzenbach, C.
Published in: Science, Technology, & Human Values
Year: 2021
Type: Academic articles
DOI: 10.1177/01622439211030007

How to integrate artificial intelligence (AI) technologies in the functioning and structures of our society has become a concern of contemporary politics and public debates. In this paper, we investigate national AI strategies as a peculiar form of co-shaping this development, a hybrid of policy and discourse that offers imaginaries, allocates resources, and sets rules. Conceptually, the paper is informed by sociotechnical imaginaries, the sociology of expectations, myths, and the sublime. Empirically we analyze AI policy documents of four key players in the field, namely China, the United States, France, and Germany. The results show that the narrative construction of AI strategies is strikingly similar: they all establish AI as an inevitable and massively disrupting technological development by building on rhetorical devices such as a grand legacy and international competition. Having established this inevitable, yet uncertain, AI future, national leaders proclaim leadership intervention and articulate opportunities and distinct national pathways. While this narrative construction is quite uniform, the respective AI imaginaries are remarkably different, reflecting the vast cultural, political, and economic differences of the countries under study. As governments endow these imaginary pathways with massive resources and investments, they contribute to coproducing the installment of these futures and, thus, yield a performative lock-in function.

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Connected HIIG researchers

Jascha Bareis

Associated researcher: The evolving digital society

Christian Katzenbach, Prof. Dr.

Associated researcher: The evolving digital society

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Du siehst Eisenbahnschienen. Die vielen verschiedenen Abzweigungen symbolisieren die Entscheidungsmöglichkeiten von Künstlicher Intelligenz in der Gesellschaft. Manche gehen nach oben, unten, rechts. Manche enden auch in Sackgassen. Englisch: You see railway tracks. The many different branches symbolise the decision-making possibilities of artificial intelligence and society. Some go up, down, to the right. Some also end in dead ends.

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