Anthony Elliott: May AI Be With You: Agency and Automation in the Age of Algorithmic Modernity

PLENARY SESSION 3 | Wednesday, August 21, 9:00 - 10:15 | Auditorium 1 (1441-011)


Professor Anthony Elliott AM is Bradley Distinguished Professor of Sociology at the University of South Australia, where he is Executive Director of the Jean Monnet Centre of Excellence and Dean of External Engagement. He is Super-Global Professor of Sociology (Visiting) at Keio University, Japan and Visiting Professor of Sociology at UCD, Ireland. He is a Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences in the UK; Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia; Fellow of the Cambridge Commonwealth Society; and; Senior Member of King's College, Cambridge. He currently serves as a member of the Australian Research Council's College of Experts. In 2019, Prof Elliott served as a member of the Expert Working Group of the Australian Council of Learned Academies (ACOLA) on AI at the request of the Prime Minister's Commonwealth Science Council.  He has received many awards, including as Member of the Order of Australia in the King's Birthday Honours 2023 for significant service to education, social science policy and research.  He is the author and editor of more than fifty books translated into dozens of languages, including most recently Making Sense of AI (2022), Algorithmic Intimacy (2023) and Algorithms of Anxiety (2024).

Abstract of lecture

From industrial robots to ChatGPT, and from driverless cars to military drones: AI is transforming all aspects of our lives, from the changing nature of work, employment and unemployment to the most intimate aspects of personal relationships.  In this presentation, Anthony Elliott focuses on the complex systems of AI - spanning intelligent machines, chatbots, advanced robotics, accelerating automation, big data  - and their centrality to new forms of social interaction, organizational life and governance.  He argues, provocatively, that today modernity has come to mean smartphones, tablets, cloud computing, big data, automated recommendation systems and predictive analytics.  This has heralded the arrival of what he terms ‘algorithmic modernity’, an altogether new ‘stage’ in the ordering techniques of envisioned human mastery.  In this automated order of algorithmic modernity, human agency is increasingly outsourced to smart machines.  We should understand this phenomenon, Elliott argues, in terms of a containment of both uncertainty and complexity which the digital revolution in social relations poses, but which ultimately denies answers.