Techno-Optimism Beyond Silicon Valley

19 Oct 2018
9:00 am - 5:00 pm

470 Stephens Hall

Event Type

This conference explores techno-optimism – the hope that science and technology will make the world a better place – and how it becomes situated in particular regions of the world. We are guided by the following questions:

How is techno-optimism produced, and what are its consequences?

How does techno-optimism become ‘placed,’ how does it travel, and how does it operate in different contexts?

How might we explore, critique, and contest the role Silicon Valley plays in shaping techno-optimistic moral visions around the world, particularly in the Global South?

How do these visions relate to past and present alternatives, and how do they interact with complementary or conflicting visions around the world?

By drawing out the performances, ideologies, and corporate practices that produce and promote techno-optimisms, as well as the effects they have in promoting social action, delegitimizing opposition, and ignoring alternatives, the presenters in this conference point to the causes and consequences of techno-optimism. We moreover contrast the outsized role that Silicon Valley plays in setting techno-optimistic moral visions with alternate visions that originate in the Global South, regions seen as in need of (often technologically-enabled) ‘development’ by technologists in Silicon Valley and other leaders in the Global North. Like other sociotechnical imaginaries, forms of techno-optimism frequently reflect the unequal political economic circumstances from which they arise and may therefore serve influential societal interests. They may lead to aspirational striving and planning for desired futures, but they may also promote a lack of attention to present problems and a silencing of social criticism. As techno-optimism becomes less a default orientation and more a contested ground, the contributions highlight the politically charged origins and effects of these optimistic moral visions. Presenters include:

Marisa Brandt, Michigan State University
Andrea Quinlan, University of Waterloo
Caroline Kao, U. C. Santa Cruz
Mark Gardiner, Stanford University (co-organizer)
Morgan G. Ames, U.C. Berkeley (lead organizer)
Sang-Hyun Kim, Hanyang University
Janaki Srinivasan, International Institute of Information Technology Bangalore
Sylvia Lindtner, University of Michigan
Joseph Satish, University of Hyderabad
Laura Forlano, Illinois Institute of Technology
Nicholas Proferes, University of Kentucky
Alex Campolo, New York University
Damien Droney, University of Chicago (co-organizer)
Aro Velmet, University of Southern California
Kate M. Centellas, University of Mississippi

This conference is free, open to the public, and ADA accessible. A detailed schedule will be posted in September 2018.


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