Imaginaries of omniscience:Automating intelligence in the US Department of Defense

Suchman, Lucy (2023) Imaginaries of omniscience:Automating intelligence in the US Department of Defense. Social Studies of Science, 53 (5). pp. 761-786. ISSN 0306-3127

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The current reanimation of artificial intelligence includes a resurgence of investment in automating military intelligence on the part of the US Department of Defense. A series of programs set forth a technopolitical imaginary of fully integrated, comprehensive and real-time ‘situational awareness’ across US theaters of operation. Locating this imaginary within the history of ‘closed world’ discourse, I offer a critical reading of dominant scholarship within military circles that sets out the military’s cybernetic model of situational awareness in the form of the widely referenced Observe, Orient, Decide, Act or OODA Loop. I argue that the loop’s promise of dynamic homeostasis is held in place by the enduring premise of objectivist knowledge, enabled through a war apparatus that treats the contingencies and ambiguities of relations on the ground as noise from which a stable and unambiguous signal can be extracted. In contrast, recent challenges to the closed-world imaginary, based on critical scholarship and investigative journalism, suggest that the aspiration to closure is an engine for the continued destructiveness of US interventions and the associated regeneration of enmity. To challenge these technopolitics of violence we need a radically different kind of situational awareness, one that recognizes the place of ignorance in perpetuating the project of militarism. Only that kind of awareness can inform the public debate required to re-envision a future place for the US in the world, founded in alternative investments in demilitarization and commitments to our collective security.

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Journal Article
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Social Studies of Science
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13 Jul 2022 08:10
Last Modified:
31 Oct 2023 04:05