Tema T Exchange 2018 with Lucy Suchman

Meaningful Human Control: the social sciences of automated weapon systems

Photo credit Charlotte PerhammarOn October 31st 2018, we were delighted to welcome Professor Lucy Suchman (Lancaster University) as our distinguished guest for the Tema T Exchange 2018. Lucy Suchman works within the field of feminist science and technology studies, focused on technological imaginaries and the material practices of technology design, particularly developments at the interface of bodies and machines.

How can social sciences inform our understanding of automated weapon systems?

The increased use of automated weapon systems has become an issue of considerable public unease. The question of their “meaningful human control” is debated at the UN. Many aspects of our own local and national context are germane: Sweden is militarily neutral yet has a thriving arms export industry; Linköping is home to Saab the weapons manufacturer; and there are enduring issues in a largely technoscience university like Linköping as to the role and importance of social sciences and humanities. It is thus especially appropriate that we ask how social sciences can inform our understanding of automated weapon systems.

Feminist science and technology studies

To discuss these issues we were delighted to welcome Professor Lucy Suchman (Lancaster University) as our distinguished guest for the Tema T Exchange 2018. Lucy works within the field of feminist science and technology studies, focused on technological imaginaries and the material practices of technology design, particularly developments at the interface of bodies and machines. It is this longstanding critical engagement with the field of human-computer interaction that she has recently extended to contemporary warfighting.

Her current research explores the figurations that inform immersive military training simulations, and the problems of ‘situational awareness’ in remotely-controlled weapon systems. It specifically asks whose bodies are incorporated into these systems, and what the consequences of these systems are for social justice and the possibility for a less violent world. Her commitment as a socially engaged scholar is reflected in her participation in the recent campaign against Google providing AI support to a US military programme aimed at automating the analysis of images from drone surveillance footage, in which she was a leading figure.

Lucy Suchman is well known for her many outstanding contributions in and beyond Science and Technology Studies (STS). Her pathbreaking books Plans and Situated Actions: the problem of human-machine communication (1987) and Human-Machine Reconfigurations (2007) have played a major role in shaping the field of Human Computer Interaction. Before moving to Lancaster, she worked for 22 years at Xerox's Palo Alto Research Center. She is winner of the Benjamin Franklin Medal in Computer and Cognitive Science; the Outstanding Contribution to Research Award from the American Sociological Association; the Lifetime Research Award from the Association of Computing Machinery; and the John Desmond Bernal Prize from the Society for Social Studies of Science.

The Tema T exchange

The Tema T exchange focused on the political implications of current warfare practices and our responsibilities as citizens for these practices. In addition, we discussed the challenges of communicating scholarly arguments to diverse audiences, and the lessons that Lucy Suchman’s work poses to other fields, such as medicine, financial markets and forensics. While enjoying Lucy’s energy and eloquence, the audience benefitted from appreciating the commitments and analytical approach that animate her work, as well as how these have changed over the course of her career. In addition to the Tema community, the event drew people from Linköping’s Departments of Cognitive Science, and Computer Science and from the Swedish Defence Research Agency.

Tema T Exchange with Lucy Suchman

Charlotte Perhammar
Charlotte Perhammar
Charlotte Perhammar
Charlotte Perhammar

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