Instructions to seminar-series ‘The Past and Future of AI: Tales, Tropes and Speculations

The seminar-series form the basis for possible joint publications in addition to future research proposals open to its participants. The aim of these subsequent activities and academic outputs is to generate new ways of understanding AI, its various genealogies and histories, its connections to capital, power, culture, geopolitics, and social movements.

The seminars are structured around Tales, Tropes, and Speculations. Tales are presentations featuring invited speakers and moderators, in addition to discussions among participants. Tropes are recurring themes that participants identify and observe throughout the seminars. Tropes are, moreover, beginnings, not end points, for conversations on AI and are subject to change throughout the seminar-series as additional and related developments are observed and explored. Speculations refer to the ambition to describe and document possible projected futures made visible during the seminars.

Each tale includes a brief presentation by the invited speaker (20-30 minutes) and is informed by pre-circulated texts (max 2), e.g. the speaker’s own or related work. The tale is followed by a discussion among the participants about the tropes that the tale connects to and is concluded with speculations on subsequent or future developments of a particular trend in AI. The first set of tropes for NordAI are:

  • (1) Automation – labor and learning
  • (2) Algorithms – power and principles
  • (3) Human–machine coevolution
  • (4) Data and Sensing

These tropes relate to potentials and perils surrounding AI, such as plans to reskill workers, whose jobs are blown into obsolescence due to automation, ambitions to introduce universal basic income, and the ability to identify trigger points whereby to enrage people for political campaigns. The tropes highlight subjects where existing power relations and social contracts are being unsettled and which require new questions to be formulated and addressed. And while the tropes have been conceived in the global tales that are being told about AI, their reception in, and adaptation to, the Nordic countries have so far not been the subject of critical examination.

Each seminar provide opportunities for speculating together. Speculations are our joint effort at thinking-out-loud on matters that by their very nature exist at the borderland of present-day discourse and uses of AI. Examples include projecting the influences of present-day technology, identifying new questions concerning automation, algorithms, human-machine coevolution, and relationships between data and sensing, and formulating why it is relevant that these processes receive responses from within the Nordic countries. These discussions are inspired by scholarly work on imaginaries, the sociology of expectations, speculative design, and anthropologies of the future. Speculations will be documented and used for planning a range of future activities, e.g. participatory workshops to develop new concepts for describing AI and related technology, co-authored multilingual op-eds, white papers and policy briefs relevant for the Nordic countries and region as a whole.

To join the seminar or to propose topics, email: