The Eye of the Master: A Social History of Artificial Intelligence

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Verso Books, Oct 10, 2023 - Social Science - 272 pages
A social history of AI that finally reveals its roots in the spatial computation of industrial factories and the surveillance of collective behaviour.

What is AI? A dominant view describes it as the quest "to solve intelligence," a solution supposedly to be found in the secret logic of the mind or in the deep physiology of the brain, such as in its complex neural networks.

The Eye of the Master argues, to the contrary, that the inner code of AI is shaped not by the imitation of biological intelligence, but the intelligence of labour and social relations, as it is found in Babbage's "calculating engines" of the industrial age as well as in the recent algorithms for image recognition and surveillance.

The idea that AI may one day become autonomous (or "sentient", as someone thought of Google's LaMDA) is pure fantasy. Computer algorithms have always imitated the form of social relations and the organisation of labour in their own inner structure and their purpose remains blind automation.

The Eye of the Master urges a new literacy on AI for scientists, journalists and new generations of activists, who should recognise that the "mystery" of AI is just the automation of labour at the highest degree, not intelligence per se.


The Material Tools of Algorithmic Thinking
Babbage and the Mechanisation of Mental Labour
The Machinery Question
The Origins of Marxs General Intellect
The Abstraction of Labour
The Automation of Pattern Recognition
Hayek and the Epistemology of Connectionism
The Invention of the Perceptron
The Automation of General Intelligence

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About the author (2023)

Matteo Pasquinelli is associate professor in Philosophy of Science at the Department of Philosophy and Cultural Heritage at Ca’ Foscari University in Venice. His writing has appeared in AI and Society, e-flux, Multitudes, Radical Philosophy, and the South Atlantic Quarterly, amongst other journals.

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