The rationale for this discussion series stems from the growing need to critically examine the impact of technologies, especially those called “AI”, on our society and culture. As AI systems become more ubiquitous, it is important to understand the ways in which they impact human experiences and meanings. The popularity of ChatGPT has surpassed that of any previous internet applications: it reached one million users in five days and 100 million in two months after launch, making it also the most used publicly available AI model to date. The widespread use of this and other AI models highlights —again— a wide range of issues including accuracy and reliability of LLMs, problems with security, privacy, bias and fairness, and the epistemic opacity of AI systems, to name a few.
Computers are semiotic technologies
The discussion series departs from the following premise. All computer systems, including AI tools, are essentially and inherently semiotic technologies, insofar as they mediate sign and signification processes within a complex network involving various human actors and institutions.
“From a pragmatist semiotic perspective, the computer system is not just the complex physical system of hardware, software and data (the hidden artefactual structures in machines, networks and stored information), even when correctly described as semiotic artefacts. The ‘computer system’ is actually the whole dialogic supersystem comprised of semiotic agents (aka ‘users’), who are not independent individuals but members of meaning-making communities, and computer systems embodying semiotic system design for dialogic interaction.”(Irvine 2022: 224)
Therefore, the sociotechnical assemblages that are computers or AI systems, still cater first and foremost to the needs of humans who are building, using and talking about them, even when most of us are not consistently aware of how this works exactly. However, public media discourse often tends to portray AI tools as anthropomorphic, personified entities creating content or acting upon the world. Less attention is given to people who still maintain a significant role and agency in these complex sociotechnical ensembles. As we navigate the complexities of increasing mediatization, it is important to critically examine the impact of technology on our cultures and societies. This seminar series offers a space to do that by bringing together scholars, practitioners, and interested individuals to explore what semiotics has to offer to the analysis of science and technology.
Semiotics is uniquely positioned to provide historical and cultural contextualization for cognitive workflow automation, as well as tools for addressing the impending epistemic and ontological challenges brought up in various discourses. Approaching the study of technology and culture with semiotic heuristics, we ask what technosemiotics can do to improve our understanding of human-computer interactions and the mutual impact of technology and society.
The online events take various forms from presentations and panels to focused discussions and talk shows. Throughout the series, we discuss various topics such as the role of technology in society and semiosphere, the mutual impact of technology and public discourse, and the (semio)ethical implications of technological advances.