Prof. Benjamin Peters

KHK Senior Fellow 10/22–09/23

Benjamin Peters is the Hazel Rogers Associate Professor and former Chair in the Department of Media Studies at the University of Tulsa with appointments in the School of Cyber Studies and Russian Studies Program. He is also affiliated fellow at the Information Society Project at Yale Law School and alumnus of Columbia’s Communication PhD program in 2010. He is the author of How Not to Network a Nation: the Uneasy History of the Soviet Internet (MITP 2016, winner of three awards in three fields), editor of Digital Keywords: A Vocabulary of Information Society & Culture (Princeton UP 2016), and coeditor of Your Computer is on Fire (MITP 2021). He has published extensively across the fields of media theory and history, the transnational history and philosophy of information technology & society, and technology criticism with an emphasis on the causes and consequences of the information age in the Soviet century. He is currently conducting research on alternative genealogies of artificial intelligence.


Not a Brain: A History of Soviet AI and Smart Tech

The 2022-2023 project at RWTH is to complete and submit the manuscript tentatively titled (in the author’s more alarmist moments) The Computer is Not a Brain: How Smart Technology Lost the Cold War, Outsmarted the West, and Risks Ruining an Intelligent World. This history of smart technology across the Soviet century, once completed, will offer a signal alternative genealogy of artificial intelligence (AI) alongside contributions to the fields of STS, engineering history, media theory, environmental studies, and the philosophy of mind. At the heart of the history of Soviet AI lies a stirring corrective to and surprise fit with the dominant paradigms of present-day artificial intelligence discourse. The project’s working hypothesis lies in the observation that most humane artificial intelligence (not unlike some artificial human intelligence) does not resemble our brains, bodies, or institutions. Rather in both the Soviet (often radio head) alternatives to western brain-computer metaphors, postwar and cold war artificial intelligence research cultures, crisis human-uninhabitable environments like Chernobyl and the ISS, and diverse texts from the period as well as in the present, Not a Brain draws insight from environmental-probabilistic approaches to knowledge generation. In short, Soviet AI appears neither good nor old-fashioned. The manuscript, and possibly another coauthored manuscript described here (https://hackersinitiative.yale.edu/), may be submitted by the end of the 2022-2023 academic year. Benjamin Peters is also gathering materials for a longer-term project critical of Global North media theory.

Publications (selection)

Peters, Benjamin. Global North Media Theory: A History, a Philosophy, a Critique. Forthcoming.

Kish, Zenia & Benjamin Peters (eds.). Farm Media. Special journal section in New Media & Society. Forthcoming.

Peters, Benjamin. Russian Media Theory: Is There Any? Should There Be? How about These? In Media Theory 5(2): 223-246.

Mullaney, Thomas, Benjamin Peters, Mar Hicks, and Kavita Philip (eds.). 2021. Your Computer is on Fire. MIT Press: Cambridge, MA. Best Book in Business Technology 2021.

Shilina, Marina, Robert Couch, and Benjamin Peters (eds.). 2017. The Data Turn & Ethics”. Special issue in Russian Journal of Communication, 9(3).