“Without Limits” Explores Technology and Inequality

Big Brother is always watching. Especially those who are marginalized.

SUNY New Paltz opened its doors to Virginia Eubanks, author of “Automating Inequality: How High-Tech Tools Profile, Police and Punish the Poor,” Tuesday afternoon, as part of the “Without Limits: Interdisciplinary Conversations in the Liberal Arts.” 

“Without Limits” focuses upon the reassessment of the importance of liberal arts. Events are aimed toward connecting liberal arts in all its components and inviting community and campus members along for the ride.

Each year, “Without Limits” focuses on a new theme. This year, committee members Anne R. Roschelle (sociology; Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality studies), Stephen M. DiDomenico (communication), Jed Mayer (English), Scott Le Vine (geography) and Despina Parker (LA&S Dean’s Office) all agreed on the theme “March of the Machines: Artificial Intelligence, Interactivity and Automation in the Digital Age.” 

“The dean sort of threw it out last year. ‘What about something with technology and artificial intelligence?’” Roschelle said, “and I said ‘oh I’m not interested in that.’ Then I started thinking about things like “Black Mirror” and all the critique of technology and artificial intelligence, and I just thought this is actually a really interesting topic.”

Roschelle and her committee members “wanted to find someone who could talk about technology, artificial intelligence and relate it to structural inequality,” Roschelle said. “[Eubanks] writes about the ways in which poor people [and] low-income people are surveilled [and] it fit our theme very well.”

Eubanks wrote “Automating Inequality” in attempt to reach two different groups of people, the first group being people who have experience with the stories she advocates for.

“Because so many of us, particularly folks with access to public services, feel like we are the only person who has ever experienced these kinds of harms but actually they are really widespread,” Eubanks said. “Folks need confirmation that their experience is regular and widely shared.”

The second group Eubanks aimed to reach was the executive public, partcularly systems that organize the public with artificial intelligence. 

“But a turn [of audience] I didn’t expect was a whole group of folks who are part of organizations that work with poor and working class communities and have really good instinct about being suspicious of [policing tech systems] or having a critical way of thinking about them but don’t necessarily know what questions to ask.”

To continue the “Without Limits” series, there will be a screening of “Her,” a film by Spike Jonze, followed by a discussion about the connections between relationships and technology in the twenty-first century on Feb. 26 from 5 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. in Lecture Center 102.