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Automating Welfare: On timing, belatedness, and perpetual emergence

Recording from AI Lund Lunch seminar 14 December 2022

Topic: Automating Welfare: On timing, belatedness, and perpetual emergence

Speaker: Anne Kaun, Professor of Media and Communication Studies, Södertörn University

Moderator: Anamaria Dutceac Segesten, Senior Lecturer, European Studies and Strategic Communication

When: 14 December at 12.00-13.15

Where: Online

Spoken language: English


Automation has sparked dreams of overcoming human boundaries and boundedness since at least the 1950s. The past decades have however seen a new upswing of imagining the bright techno-future, with artificial intelligence solving societal, economic, and political challenges. This includes increasingly public administration and welfare provision. The process of introducing algorithmic automation comes, however, with intense frictions. On the one hand, the enthusiasm for algorithmic automation within the industry and public sector is still striving. Large-scale digitalisation and automation projects are presented as revolutionising force in public administration and welfare. On the other hand, public discourse is increasingly painting a dystopian picture of the digitally automated welfare state including biases as well as loss of accountability and autonomy. In this keynote address, I take the frictions, conflicts and contradictions that emerge around technological change as a starting point to zoom in on temporalities of algorithmic automation. Considering three temporal aspects of automating welfare – timing, belatedness, and perpetual emergence – I outline the contours of the digital welfare state and consider critical implications of delegating decisions to algorithmic systems. Drawing on diverse and extensive empirical material including citizen surveys, in-depth interviews with civil servants and developers as well as observations at public agencies, I engage with the unfulfilled promises of the fully automated welfare state.
Anne Kaun is a professor of Media and Communication Studies at Södertörn University, Sweden. Her research interests include media theory, mediated temporalities, algorithmic culture and automation as well as artificial intelligence from a humanistic social science perspective. She is a 2021 Wallenberg Academy fellow and leads several projects exploring the digital welfare state and automated decision-making. Her works have appeared in New Media & Society and Information, Communication & Society, among others. In 2023, her co-authored book Prison Media will appear with MIT Press.