Speculative Histories of Intelligence


The quantification and rationalization of intelligence has a long history in the human sciences. Intelligence has been a central category in delineating racial, ethnic, and national differences throughout the 19th and 20th century. The effort to define and quantify intelligence has marked eugenics and much of social planning and policy throughout the last two centuries. Today, discourses of artificial intelligence continue to propagate and automate social ideas concerning evolution, adaptation, and race. While much attention has been given to bias within algorithmic technologies, far less has interrogated the actual concepts of decision making, evolution, competition, fitness, and adaptation that shape contemporary design decisions in digital systems. In this research project, we will collect multiple case studies from across many fields that create an alternative way to organize knowledge and reconceptualize intelligence.

This project is not a comprehensive history but a series of case studies and a collection of models, practices, and simulations, some historical and some in the present,  grouped into some of the following categories.

1) Financialization

We examine the reformulation of the agent in the work of behavioral economists and derivative pricing and automated  portfolio management.

2) Securitization

We will study the new notions of organizational intelligence, violence, and networked warfare emerging after the Second World War both within governmental and military related institutions such as the RAND Corporation, the Simulmatics Corporation, and ABT associates and in social movements such as the Civil Rights Movement, and anti-colonial struggles such in the work of Franz Fanon, Eduard Glissant, and others.

3) Fabrication

Emerging from cybernetic influences self-organization took increasing influence in design and architecture. We particularly focus on genetic algorithmic design and bio-generated design practices in our present.

4) Evolution

We examine new ideas of populations and models of evolution that emerged in ecology from discourses of resilience and socio-biology and trace their impact on international aid and development programs focused on population and urbanism.

5) Artificiality

Throughout the late 1950’s and 1960’s a sub-group of scientists worked on neural nets and invented notions of intelligence grounded in populations not language or representation; models that began to return in the 1980’s and early 1990’s and continue to inform our present.

6) Indigeneity

The group is also working with Concordia’ Indigenous Futures Research Center to examine different ideas of programming, coding, and knowledge that come from traditions outside of colonial and extractive political-economies and sciences.

These conversations about the past and present of intelligence are also about how we imagine the future of intelligence (artificial and otherwise), global polity, environment, and human freedom. It is therefore incumbent upon us to examine different imaginaries of agents and agency, beyond those of national security and neo-liberalism, including the work of ecologists, designers, and social movements, to re-envision a more heterogeneous and equitable future for our networks, clouds, and crowds.