• Themes in Contemporary Political and Legal Theory

    159B | 001 | CCN: 23997

    Platforms, Politics, and Virtuality: Reason and/of the State in the Digital Age

    Instructor: IK Udekwu

    4 Units

    MW, 5:00pm-6:30pm

    Location: Dwinelle 109

    There is a growing suspicion that contemporary artifice, computation, and virtuality fundamentally alter the ground of political life. In the summer of 2018, The Atlantic published an op-ed from former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger expressing alarm at the prospects of artificial general intelligence (AGI) and its potential to undermine the world order — intellectual, social, political — that emerged from the Age of Reason in the 15th century. The story of “How the Enlightenment Ends” is not one of resurgent nationalism or outrageous income inequality, but a change in the “personal character” of human cognition in the face of a new, “potentially dominating technology” that has still not found a “guiding philosophy.”
    Does the emergence of intelligent machines truly index a decisive moment in the world’s political order? This upper division course will explore connections between reason and the political in late 20th and early 21st century theory, with special attention to the purported disruptions of digital technology. Our interrogation of “reason” will be two-fold, examining “reasons” for state power (concepts like “population” and “the economy”) as well as the images of “reason” (as in cognition) that underpin modern political imaginaries. After tracing how this history of “reasons” and “reason” may already embed virtuality and artifice in political thought, this course will then consider how current phenomena like cloud computing, machine learning, and “Smart Cities” may (or may not!) inflect, overturn, or disrupt existing concepts of the political.
    * This course satisfies the Public Discourse Concentration