skip to primary navigationskip to content

Reading Group #3

Reading Group #3 on 'Introduction to Seminar Theme: Cognitive Injustice'

Wednesday 15 July 2020, 15:00–17:00 BST

lewisCo-facilitator: Prof. Jason Edward Lewis (Concordia University)

Discussants: Apolline Taillandier (Sciences Po), Sananda Sahoo (Western University)

Moderator: Dr Richard Staley (University of Cambridge)

Readings (in their suggested reading order):

  1. Little Bear, Leroy, and Ryan Heavy Head. 2004. 'A Conceptual Anatomy of the Blackfoot World.' ReVision 26 (3): 31–38.
  2. Todd, Zoe. 2016. 'An Indigenous Feminist's Take on the Ontological Turn: "Ontology" Is Just Another Word For Colonialism.' Journal of Historical Sociology 29 (1).
  3. Lewis, Jason Edward, Noe Arista, Archer Pechawis and Suzanne Kite. 'Making Kin with the Machines.' Journal of Design and Science, vol. Summer 2018, no. 3.5, July 2018.
  4. Benesiinaabandan, Scott. 2020. 'Gwiizens, the Old Lady and the Octopus Bag Device.' In Indigenous Protocol and Artificial Intelligence Position Paper, edited by Jason Edward Lewis, 45-57. Honolulu, HI: Initiative for Indigenous Futures and the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research (CIFAR).

Co-facilitator: Prof. Jason Edward Lewis. Prof. Lewis is the University Research Chair in Computational Media and the Indigenous Future Imaginary as well as Professor of Computation Arts at Concordia University, Montreal.

A summary of the Cognitive Injustice theme is available here. Prof. Lewis provides the following overview of the session:

Indigenous epistemologies are many and varied. What many (not all!) of them center is language, storytelling, territory and protocol as means of knowledge generation, preservation and dissemination. This is often (not always!) expressed in terms of kinship relations with human and non-humans, and the reciprocal responsibilities that energize and maintain the mesh of relationships. This session on cognitive justice will explore how Indigenous epistemologies and cosmologies can inform historical and contemporary perspectives on how AI systems are and have been designed, implemented, and brought into ethical and functional engagement with humans and other non-humans.

The discussion will be grounded in four texts: 'A Conceptual Anatomy of the Blackfoot Word' (L Little Bear and R Heavy Head, 2004), '"Ontology" Is Just Another Word For Colonialism' (Z Todd, 2016), 'Making Kin with the Machines' (J Lewis, et al, 2018), and selections from the 'Indigenous Protocol and Artificial Intelligence Position Paper' (various, 2020). The Little Bear text illuminates the Blackfoot language-world so the reader can glimpse what it might be like to perceive existence as a field of ever-changing always-in-relation knots of space-time rather than a collection of objects. Todd critiques the 'ontological turn' as well as various species of new materialism for claims of pioneering new intellectual ground while ignoring, dismissing and overwriting long histories of Indigenous philosophy that address the same issues—often more clearly and from firmer conceptual footing. These two texts helped set the foundation for the 'Making Kin with Machines' essay and subsequent Indigenous Protocol and Artificial Intelligence Position Paper, which brings Indigenous relational epistemologies to bear on the question of what kind of relative AI might be and become and what that means for how we should design, implement and deploy such systems. Both texts also critique how concepts of 'equity, diversity and inclusion' in the AI conversation (and in tech in general) are used to banish Indigenous (and other non-Cartesian) epistemologies from the techno-scientific center and relegate them to the representational margins.

At the moment, here at the beginning of this research trajectory, I am interested in five main questions:

  1. How do we understand Indigenous epistemologies in situ?
  2. Should we and can we formalize such knowledge in computational terms?
  3. Should we and can we implement intelligent machine systems based on those epistemologies?
  4. Would those systems be better at promoting Indigenous flourishing than those currently being built?
  5. Would such approaches be better at capturing what it means to be humanly intelligent than those based on current computational models?

Please email us at if you need help accessing a copy.