RAI 2022: Anthropology, AI and the Future of Human Society Conference Recap – June 6-11, 2022

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“AI” has come to represent multiple causal drivers of change: amongst them artificial intelligence itself, space exploration, bio-tech and other emerging technologies. The implications for human society could hardly be more significant, and feed into a host of already contemporary concerns, such as sovereignty, economics, politics, reproduction and kinships, ethics and law, conflict and many more. The Royal Anthropological Institute’s 2022 conference that took place virtually from June 6-11 explored these issues from the broadest range of perspectives: from its foundation, anthropology has studied the complexity and variety of human society, and now we may turn to developing a sustained body of disciplinary understanding envisaging what may come in near, and more distant eras. Highlights of the event included plenary sessions by Harvey Whitehouse on “Rethinking Ritual”, and by Gillian Tett on “AI – Anthropology Intelligence”.

As producers of the world’s largest anthropological databank, which has been online since 1997, the Human Relations Area Files was pleased to attend this virtual conference with like-minded enthusiasts of anthropology, computing, and technological futures.

Matthew Longcore, Director of Membership and Outreach, represented HRAF in the virtual exhibitor’s hall. Our booth enabled attendees to learn more about the eHRAF databases, and the varied uses of our cross-cultural collections for both ethnographic and data science purposes.

Dr. Francine Barone, HRAF’s digital anthropologist and Director of Academic Development, joined Matthew on two consecutive conference days to facilitate eHRAF Workshops covering an introduction to HRAF, the eHRAF World Cultures database, navigation, browsing, search, and exploring results. Francine and Matthew also shared additional open access materials from HRAF and previewed our exciting new database design.

Most workshop attendees were new to HRAF, and we hope they will explore eHRAF more in the future. Free trial credentials for both eHRAF databases will remain live on our virtual booth page until the end of the month, so delegates can continue to discover our collections. Return to the booth inside the Whova platform or app to learn more.

On Monday, Dr. Francine Barone presented her paper “Close without saving? How local traditions may withstand a digital demise”, in the panel The concept of Tradition: its survival, transformation and virtual world refashioning. Taking an ethnographic approach to media and change, she argued that not all social media usage is destined to eradicate local culture, particularly when evolving media practices are viewed in their existing cultural contexts, in specific times and places. Her case study focused on her fieldwork on urban place-making and digital media in Catalonia, Spain.

On the final day of the conference, Dr. Barone joined Prof. Michael Fischer, Vice President of HRAF, and Dr. Sridhar Ravula, iKLEWS Project Team Leader, to present “Ethnographic Data Science: New Approaches to Comparative Research“ in the panel Programming anthropology: coding and culture in the age of AI. This paper explored the exciting new innovations leveraging AI and natural language processing that are presently being developed as part of HRAF’s NSF-funded iKLEWS project.

iKLEWS (Infrastructure for Knowledge Linkages from Ethnography of World Societies) is a HRAF project developing semantic infrastructure and associated computer services for eHRAF World Cultures, which presently contains roughly 750,000 pages from 6,500 ethnographic documents covering 360 world societies over time. The basic goal is to greatly expand the value of eHRAF World Cultures to students and researchers who seek to understand the range of possibilities for human understanding, knowledge, belief and behavior, including research for real-world problems we face today, such as: climate change; violence; disasters; epidemics; hunger; and war. Understanding how and why cultures vary in the range of possible outcomes in similar circumstances is critical to improving policy, applied science, and basic scientific understandings of the human condition in an increasingly globalized world. Moreover, seeing how others have addressed issues in the recent past can help us find solutions we might not find otherwise.

The full paper can be found here.

HRAF RAI 2022 presentation

HRAF would like to thank all who attended our virtual exhibition and individual panels, and contributed to thought-provoking discussions, as well as the delegates who engaged with us via the virtual chat regarding their individual research projects and interests. We also warmly thank the RAI 2022 conference organizers for a wonderful event.

If you have any further questions about using eHRAF for your research, please contact Matthew Longcore at hraf-membership@yale.edu.

Interested in becoming a member of HRAF? Have your librarian initiate a free 60-day institution-wide trial for your university or college here. Don’t forget to visit our booth page to share a special discount code for new Regular Associate Memberships with your librarian.