Current Research Project
The Future of Governance Today: The Social Life of Al Systems in Policing and Policy
1: AIming Toward the Future: Policing, Governance, and Artificial Intelligence
2: Algorithmic Technologies and Global Governance: An Anthropological Approach
3: The Social and Environmental Life of AI Systems in Policing and Policy
Artificial Intelligence and related technologies are already transforming our world socially, economically, and politically, and they are quickly becoming part of people’s everyday lives, most of the time in invisible ways. They are having important and immediate consequences for a wide range of issues relevant for governance and justice, including where and when law enforcement will direct policing efforts and how they will be held accountable; what decisions a judge will most likely make; and who populates prisons and for how long, to mention just a few. What these issues all have in common is the fact that decision-making takes place through algorithmic assemblages, raising questions and concerns about the fairness, accountability, and transparency of such decisions.
These systems often have an aura of objective truth and scientific legitimacy that draws attention away from their contingencies and constructive (and destructive) powers. A growing number of scholars and policy makers have emphasized the urgent need for more studies that look at the everyday and long-term effects of the use of AI, without losing sight of its original conceptualization. The project is designed to do precisely this in the context of policing and governance. It investigates how AI and related technologies are being conceptualized, developed, transferred, and applied in the context of the intensification of state and non-state policing. It also considers the involvement of the private sector in governance and criminal justice initiatives.
One of the key methodological approaches is ethnographic, doing research in northern Italy and southern Africa. The project accomplishes this through two interconnected research trajectories and foci: the first looks at how AI and other predictive and digital technologies are employed for law enforcement and how this plays out on the ground. In other words, it will consider these technologies in practice. The second trajectory, through an ethnography in tech institutions and laboratories, pays attention to the conceptualization, creation, and transfer of these policing technologies by tech experts, namely engineers and designers. An empirical approach will help us to understand the social changes and the future these new technologies produce - why they get used in the first place, why people trust them (or not), how they are created and ultimately translated and deployed. This is of particular importance at a time when governance seems to be quickly shifting from the human to the humanoid, affecting decision-making that impacts people’s basic rights.
The project is guided by concerns and open questions on the place of algorithms, and digital technologies more generally, in deploying or expressing relationships of power, and the role of tech corporations in shaping governance, policies, and laws. It aims to shed light on the use and effect of these technologies in policing, governance and society, emphasizing the implications their uses have for social inequality, law, and the outcomes of criminal justice procedures.
In this project Maria Sapignoli works in close collaboration with Dr. Daniel Marciniak and Dr. Maya Avis.
This project researches the possible effects that the ‘AI-turn’ of global governance has for human rights practices, particularly in the case of the United Nations. This turn, under the banner ‘AI for Good’, is expressed in the UN’s intervention in major crises and continues with the creation of more mundane policies and law. It also looks at how, beyond the policy and crisis-intervention orientations of AI, we are witnessing the creation of new foundations for human belonging and being.
The project pays particular attention to the use of such technologies as airplanes, helicopters, drones (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, or AUVs), and miniaturized thermal imaging systems that combine with digital technologies, “real time data”, and algorithmic models to create new tools for social and environmental governance. This project field research is based in southern Africa. It focuses on the ways these technologies are used in the context of nature conservation and environmental justice, 1) for surveillance and policing environmental crime; 2) for governance through the development of policy and laws; and 3) for land rights’ claims by marginalized communities in the context of displacement and nature conservation. It addresses questions related to the impact that these tools and forms of regulation could have on peoples’ lives, environmental sustainability, and the relationship between communities and institutions. It also considers the ways in which tech experts’ approaches to social and environmental justice and understandings of conservation, nature, and society get translated and embodied in the development of machine learning.