David Bates

Professor, Chair Graduate Admissions

I received my PhD in European History from the University of Chicago. Since coming to Berkeley in 1999, I have been working on two main research tracks: one on the history of legal and political ideas, and the other on the relationship between technology, science, and the history of human cognition. My undergraduate courses and graduate seminars are usually divided between these two main topic areas. My new book project will bring these interests closer together, as my research now focuses on the connections between reason, technology, war, and political organizations as they develop in the age of cybernetic systems theory and the rethinking of the living organism in that context.

I am now completing a book, An Artificial History of Natural Intelligence, that probes the emergence of human thinking as an entanglement of machine technologies, somatic processes, media practices, and social/political organization. Beginning with an examination of Cartesian robotics and early modern reflections on automaticity, I go on to show how “artificial intelligence” in fact marks a peculiar stage in the history of reason, one that privileges the isolated mind and/or computer. A critique of contemporary models of automatic cognition requires unwinding a certain history of automaticity spawned by this moment, in order to rediscover another, longer history of the “human” constituted within and against technical systems.

I was the director of the Berkeley Center for New Media (2010-13) and founded the BCNM lecture series History and Theory of New Media which I co-organized, with Abigail de Kosnick (TDPS), from 2011-19. I chaired the Rhetoric department from 2014-17.

Education: PhD (History), University of Chicago

Research interests: 

European Intellectual History
Media and Technology
Cognition and Epistemology
Political Thought
Artificial Intelligence