"In the last decade, scholars and activists have pushed the needle forward on conversations regarding the racializing and criminalizing nature of automated facial recognition, leading to the restriction or even banning of this technology. Yet automated systems that process speech and render the voice into a medium of classification have been subject to far less collective scrutiny. This talk explores the sociopolitical and ethical life of machine listening, examining efforts to enroll it into U.S. mental health care. Drawing from ethnographic fieldwork with teams of psychiatric and engineering professionals developing tools for identifying signs of mental illness in the sounds of the voice, I argue that machine listening intensifies the U.S. mental health care system’s tendency to elide care with capture. At the same time, by focusing on the day-to-day work of individuals often not considered to be central innovators in these efforts, such as data technicians, I show that the making of machine listening for mental health care is also a site for alternative frameworks of disability, responsiveness, and care."

Dr. Beth Michelle Semel is a Postdoctoral Associate in Anthropology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where she co-founded and serves as the associate director of the Language and Technology Lab. Her research has been published in The Journal of Linguistic Anthropology, Science, Technology & Human Values, and Somatosphere, where she co-edited a series on digital psychiatry. She received her PhD in History, Anthropology, Science, Technology and Society from MIT, and her MA in Anthropology from Brandeis University.

Sponsored by the Anthropology Department and the Center for Visual Anthropology

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