Research Expertise and Interest
artificial intelligence, enlightenment, early Modern European intellectual history, 20th century European and American intellectual history, history and theory of media and technology, history of political thought
David Bates is a professor in the Department of Rhetoric. He works 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. Future work will bring these interests closer together, as his research will focus more on the connections between reason, technology, and the state as they develop in the age of cybernetic systems and the rethinking of the living organism in that context.
He has just completed a book, An Artificial History of Natural Intelligence (University of Chicago Press, forthcoming Spring 2024) that probes the emergence of human thinking as an entanglement between machine technologies, somatic processes, media practices, and social/political organization. Beginning with an examination of Cartesian robotics and early modern reflections on automaticity, he goes on to show how "artificial intelligence" marks a peculiar stage in the history of reason, one that privileges the isolated mind. The critique of contemporary models of automatic cognition requires unwinding a certain history of automaticity spawned by this moment, and rediscovering another history of the human as it develops and evolves within technical systems.
His new book project is The Concept of the Political in the Age of Intelligent Machines, a critical history of the intersection between technology and political theory in the twentieth century that focuses on the political dimensions of cybernetics and AI and the technological aspects of political concepts.