Past Events

Neo-colonial Visions: Artificial Intelligence and Epistemic Violence

Research Seminar – Anthony Downey, Maya Ganesh

  • 29 March 2023
  • 5:00 – 7:00 pm
  • Part of the series 'In Conversation: New Directions in Art History', which will explore the changing modes and methodologies of approaching visual and material worlds. Running from January to March 2023.
  • Paul Mellon Centre and Online

Maya Indira Ganesh, Senior Research Fellow, Leverhulme Centre for the Future of Intelligence (Cambridge University) and Anthony Downey, Professor of Visual Culture in the Middle East and North Africa (Birmingham City University)

Neo-colonial Visions: Artificial Intelligence and Epistemic Violence

Artificial Intelligence (AI), often presented as an objective “view from nowhere”, constitutes a regime of power that further establishes historical forms of bias and evolving models of subjugation. A key component in this process, this presentation will suggest, involves the extraction of data from digital images in order to train AI. How, therefore, do we understand the transformation of images from their symbolic and representational contexts to their contemporary function as sources of digital data? Bringing together researchers in the field of visual culture and AI technology, and taking as its starting point the representational biases of colonial imagery, Anthony Downey and Maya Indira Ganesh will explore how the digital image has increasingly become the means to extract, archive and repurpose information. Based on the extraction and statistical repurposing of data, they will observe how AI renders entire communities susceptible to encoded and overt forms of epistemological violence. Designed for the purpose of training machine vision and the apparatus of AI, these repurposed “images” reveal, furthermore, how the extractive practices of colonialism have become inexorably aligned with corporate interests and neo-colonial economies of data extraction.

Listing image courtesy of author, 2023

About the speakers

  • Anthony Downey is an academic, author and editor. He is Professor of Visual Culture in the Middle East and North Africa (Birmingham City University). He sits on the editorial boards of Third Text (Routledge), Journal of Digital War (Palgrave Macmillan) and Memory, Mind & Media (Cambridge University Press), respectively. He is the series editor for Research/Practice (Sternberg Press, 2019–ongoing). Recent and upcoming publications include Algorithmic Anxieties and Post-Digital Futures (forthcoming, MIT Press, 2024); Nida Sinnokrot: Palestine is Not a Garden(Sternberg Press and MIT Press, 2023); Khalil Rabah: Falling Forward/Works (1995–2025) (Sharjah Art Foundation and Hatje Cantz, 2022); Topologies of Air: Shona Illingworth (Sternberg Press and the Power Plant, 2021); and Heba Y Amin: The General’s Stork (Sternberg Press, 2020). Downey is the cultural and commissioning lead on a four-year multi-disciplinary AHRC Network Plus award, where his research focuses on cultural practices, digital methods and educational provision for children with disabilities in Lebanon, the Occupied Palestinian Territories and Jordan (2020–2024). This award was preceded by an AHRC Development award in 2019. In 2020, Downey curated Heba Y. Amin: When I See the Future (at the Mosaic Rooms, London), and in 2022, he curated Heba Y. Amin: When I See the Future, Chapter II (Zilberman Gallery, Berlin). For further information on publications and research activities, see

  • Dr (des) Maya Indira Ganesh is a cultural scientist, researcher and writer working on the social and cultural politics of AI, autonomous and machine learning systems. She is a senior researcher at the Leverhulme Centre for the Future of Intelligence and an assistant professor, co-teaching a masters programme on AI, ethics and society, at the University of Cambridge, UK. Ganesh earned her PhD in cultural sciences from Leuphana University, Lüneburg. Her work examined the reshaping of the “ethical” through the driverless car, an apparatus of automation and automobility, big data, cultural imaginaries of robots and practices of statistical inference. Before turning to academic work, Maya Indira Ganesh spent a decade as a feminist activist working at the point of intersection of gender justice, digital security and digital freedoms of expression. Her work has consistently brought questions of power, justice and inequality to those of the body, the digital and knowledge making.