IEEE Technology and Society Magazine - December 2019 - 13

the two Blade Runner films, which
are based on Dick's work, because
they would add to the richness of
her exploration of emotional labor.
The fourth and final theme, dying,
takes the reader back to the weaponized drones that began the book.
Here, Rhee maintains, we have the
primary exemplar of "the labor of
racial dehumanization," a process
whereby drone operators, securely
based in the West, direct strikes
against people in the Middle East
and Africa. The attacks are aimed
at people suspected of being enemies of the West, but the number
of innocent civilians killed totals in
the thousands. Rhee's description
of drone warfare does not add much
to what we already know. In fact, as
Hugh Gusterson's Drones: Remote
Control Warfare describes, the U.S
government's own documents put
the total of civilian deaths at considerably higher than the 1179 cited in
Rhee's book.
President Obama alone approved
542 strikes killing 3797 people in nonbattlefield settings where American
forces were not directly engaged,
mainly in Pakistan, Yemen, and
Somalia. Moreover, The Robotic Imaginary does not fully capture the
extent of the dehumanization drone
warfare creates. For example, in
addition to "signature" strikes, which
respond to the perception, often
incorrect, of hostile activity, there
are "double tap" strikes where a
drone follows a kill by remaining in
the air to target rescuers or returns
later to attack the funeral. Repeat
drone strikes have become so common that medical aid workers typically wait hours before providing
assistance and people have stopped
attending funerals. It is also the
case that drone operators are sus-

flow from this conceptual turn add
considerably to what we know about
emotional labor, they often contain
a tendency to universalize emotional expression by positing a general set of expressions common
to humans irrespective of gender,
race, or nationality. This tendency
is of more than academic interest
because it is often embedded in
algorithms and surveillance systems
used by organizations like the Transportation Safety Administration to
identify potential terrorist threats.
These claim universality, even as
they act out racial and gender stereotypes. To counter this tendency,
Rhee looks to the cultural history of
AI to uncover questions about emotional expression in AI and to challenge the tendency to universalize it.
To address these issues and help
to develop a more robust robotic
imaginary, Rhee reminds us that
questions of feeling, emotion, and
expressiveness have been raised,
time and again, in the cultural history of AI, nowhere more powerfully
than in the work of Philip K. Dick
whose We Can Build You and Do
Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
raise critical questions for those who
would universalize emotional life.
For Rhee: "By addressing how emotionality is constructed and policed,
the novels do not valorize the possibility of identifying the human from
the nonhuman at the site of the
emotions, but rather highlight the
artificiality of the boundary between
human and dehumanized." Dick
cleverly demonstrates that it is not
the emotions that define humanity
but rather a pseudoscientific measure constructed by humans that
enables them to justify their domination over their creations. It is unfortunate that Rhee does not examine

DECEMBER 2019

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IEEE TECHNOLOGY AND SOCIETY MAGAZINE

ceptible to dehumanization as the
attempt to live a normal family life
while remotely delivering death and
destruction has led to an epidemic
of mental health issues.
Admittedly, Rhee's purpose is
not so much to describe the horrors
of drone warfare but to document
the response of artists and cultural
workers to the expansion of this
form of warfare. In this respect, she
succeeds in identifying a remarkably wide range of installations,
exhibitions, and creative writing,
notably Teju Cole's Twitter-based
Seven Short Stories about Drones,
that have power fully connected
drones to issues like surveillance,
race, and ethics.
The Robotic Imaginary makes
an important contribution to the
social and cultural analysis of AI.
The academic writing might be a bit
challenging for some readers, but it
is well worth our careful attention
because the book documents the
central significance of issues often
left out of debates about the future
of intelligent machines. It also demonstrates why culture matters when
making decisions about AI. Those
decisions draw from all the orthodox
and heterodox visions that comprise
the imaginary and it is essential to
broaden our field of vision beyond
the popular, but narrow, technical
and economic compartments that
limit the ability to determine what to
do about AI.

Reviewer Information
Vincent Mosco is Professor Emeritus
of Sociology at Queen's University
where he held the Canada Research
Chair in Communication and Society. His most recent book is The
Smart City in a Digital World, London: Emerald, 2019.

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