Today’s largest artificial intelligence firms are permeated by networks of tech workers organizing for change: in the past year, we have seen protests against developing visual recognition tools for drone warfare, producing a censored search engine for the Chinese market, and deploying an automated hiring tool that discriminates against women. This movement also intersects with concerns about practices within the firms themselves: employment discrimination on the basis of gender and race, unfair working conditions for the companies’ temporary and contract workers, and revelations of sexual harassment by corporate leaders.

This project seeks to outline a radical history of AI from the 1960s through the 1980s, situating the contemporary tech worker movement in a longer trajectory by drawing on a combination of both archival research and participant interviews. Though events like the Google Walkout demonstrate the movement today is in many respects unprecedented in its global scope and scale, this project maps out important antecedents in the work of scholars, activist groups, and industry professionals.

I am working with collaborators at AI Now to develop a multi-year research agenda tracing the historical antecedents to the present moment in tech worker organizing. At the core of this project is a commitment to work in solidarity with tech workers and labor organizers, ensuring that this research adds to and does not extract from existing movements.

I gave an early presentation of this work at Columbia University, available here.

© 2020 by Sarah Myers West