Techno-Optimism Within and Beyond Silicon Valley

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

Social Science Matrix

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. Eighteen scholars from around the world will discuss this topic, 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.

Conference Schedule

9:00am Registration Opens

9:30am Opening Remarks: Why Study Techno-Optimism?
Morgan G. Ames, Damien Droney, and Mark Gardiner, special issue editors

9:40am Panel 1: Situating Silicon Valley’s Techno-Optimisms
Discussant: Nick Proferes, University of Kentucky

Richard Tutton, Lancaster University.
Silicon Valley and Outer Space Utopias

Alex Campolo, New York University (with Kate Crawford).
Enchanted Determinism: Power without Control in Artificial Intelligence

Laura Forlano, Illinois Institute of Technology.
Techno-Optimistic Smart City Imaginaries: A Patchwork of Four Urban Futures

11:10am Panel 2: Alternative Techno-Optimisms in Development
Discussant: Damien Droney, University of Chicago.

Peter Little, Rhode Island College.
E-Waste Interventions and Desperate Techno-Optimism in Ghana

Kate M. Centellas, University of Mississippi.
Indigenous Techno-Optimism: A Bolivian Counterpoint

Aro Velmet, University of Southern California.
The Blank Slate E-State: Estonian Information Society and the Politics of Novelty in the 1990s

Mark Gardiner, Stanford University.
Solar Visions and Nuclear Dreams: Techno-Optimism in Namibian Energy Futures

12:50pm Lunch Buffet

1:20pm Panel 3: Traveling Techno-Optimisms
Discussant: Sreela Sarkar, Santa Clara University

Cindy Lin, University of Michigan (with Silvia Lindtner, Seyram Avle, and Jean Hardy).
Locating Techno-optimism; Or, Scaling the promises of digital technologies in Ghana, China, and Indonesia

Joseph Satish, University of Hyderabad.
Catholic imaginaries of GM crops: Jesuits, techno-optimism and the common good

Janaki Srinivasan, International Institute of Information Technology Bangalore (with Elisa Oreglia).
Digital Myths and Moral Economies

Morgan G. Ames, U.C. Berkeley.
The Cruel Optimism of Performing Development

3:10pm Panel 4: Living and Embodying Techno-Optimisms
Discussant: Joseph Klett, Science History Institute

Marisa Brandt, Michigan State University.
Performing the Coolness of Care: How Innovators and the Media Produce Optimistic Imaginaries of Clinical VR for the U.S. Military and the Public

Andrea Quinlan, University of Waterloo.
The Rape Kit’s Promise: Techno-optimism in the fight against the Backlog

Rebecca Wilbanks, Johns Hopkins University.
Cyberpunk Fiction and the Invention of Synthetic Biology

4:30pm Closing Remarks
Morgan G. Ames, Damien Droney, and Mark Gardiner, special issue editors


This conference is free, open to the public, and ADA accessible. 

This event is sponsored by CSTMS.
Additional sponsorship comes from:  CSTMS • Institute of International Studies at UC Berkeley • Matrix
Institute of International Studies at UC Berkeley

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