Queer Affects at the Origins of Computation

11 Aug, 2022

Queer Affects at the Origins of Computation

Jacob Gaboury's new article, "Queer Affects at the Origins of Computation," appears in the Journal of Cinema and Media Studies in the issue titled "In Focus: New Histories of Computational Personhood."

From the article:

Much has been written on Alan Turing and the origins of artificial intelligence (AI) some seventy years ago. Turing’s “imitation game” set the foundation for research into what has become the future promise of nearly all AI-driven industries today. At the heart of Turing’s work is the notion of intelligence as performative, that is, as an effect that need not demonstrate any internal awareness of intelligence as an abstract or conceptual goal. Turing famously likened this performative quality of intelligence to gender, which he imagined as equally transmutable and inessential—a comparison that opens up the possibility of a queer reading of AI through the discourses of performance, language, and affect. Nonetheless, in our hagiographic treatment of Turing as the so-called father of modern computing, we often miss those queer objects and relations that constitute the broader milieu of experimental mathematics during this period. Working alongside Turing at the University of Manchester Computing Center in the early 1950s was a gay man named Christopher Strachey. A prolific early programming language designer, Strachey is best known for developing what are arguably the first examples of computer music and computer games, along with a love letter– generating algorithm that is widely considered the earliest work of computational art. That Strachey developed so many groundbreaking programs at the precise moment Turing was theorizing the foundations of artificial intelligence speaks at once to his skill as a researcher and to his mutual interest and investment in experimental or non-normative uses for computational technology. While their colleagues worked on applications in optics and aerodynamics, Turing and Strachey approached the computer with a distinctly different set of affects and investments, asking the machine to perform not only intelligence but also play, sincerity, camp, and even love. Examining the history of early computing through these two queer figures allows us to mark out a set of affective relations toward computational machines that presage the contemporary moment while critiquing our own investment in the normative intelligence of artificial systems.

Read the full article here!