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Shaping 21th Century AI: Controversy and Closure in Research, Policy and Media

Shaping 21st Century AI: Controversy and Closure in Research, Policy and Media

The 3-year international project “Shaping AI” investigates the development of “Artificial Intelligence” (AI) as a socio-technical phenomenon: AI is not only a noteworthy innovation that is currently being introduced into science and society. It also entails a distinctive approach to solving problems through automation and potentially new ways of making sense of the world and organising the polity.

The Shifting AI controversies workshop report (April 2023) is available here

Project Summary

AI has become the subject of heated debate in recent years, from scientific discussions sparked by the release of new language models to public outrage following the firing of experts by big tech companies and societal concerns about the use of face recognition technologies by the police, and in schools. In this social research project, we will map and analyse controversies about AI across different spheres: research, policy and the media. Our objective is to identify what are the most important, possibly overlooked, concerns, disputes and problematics that have arisen in the last 10 years in relation to AI as a strategic area of research, public policy and societal change.


In each of the above contexts, the project will use innovative social, digital and design methods to map controversies in and about Artificial Intelligence. Drawing on interdisciplinary methods for controversy analysis that have been developed in Science and Technology Studies and Media Studies (Venturini and Munk, 2021), we will combine data analysis with fieldwork and design research in order to bring to the surface underlying assumptions and wider forces that inform, disrupt and complicate beliefs in the fundamental capacity of AI to solve society’s problems, transform government, cement geo-political power, and render science and innovation more "human-centric."

In addition, the project will conduct experiments in participation in AI by hosting creative method-led workshops that invite stakeholders and members of the public into the exploration of future AI pathways, and to envision different possible ways of living with and without AI in society. By these various means, the project meets the strong demand for expertise and visions to inform understanding of the unfolding developments of 21st-century AI in society and in shaping AI for the public benefit.


The University of Warwick team for Shaping AI is led by Noortje Marres (PI). Michael Castelle is Co-Investigator of the project, Beatrice Gobbo is Shaping AI's design researcher in the UK, Chiara Poletti works on Shaping AI as post-doctoral researcher and James Tripp as senior research software engineer.

The international Shaping AI team is led by Christian Katzenbach at the Humboldt Institute of Internet and Society, Berlin. Other partners include Donato Ricci and Dominque Cardon at the Medialab at Sciences Po, Paris, Jonathan Roberge at the NENIC Lab at INRS Montreal, and Fenwick McKelvey at the Algorithmic Media Observatory at Concordia University. The collaborators won a 1,7 million € grant awarded by national research foundations in the highly competitive Open Research Area (ORA) scheme.