Prof. Dr. Ben Peters

Benjamin Peters is Associate Professor of Media Studies at the University of Tulsa and author of How Not to Network a Nation: The Uneasy History of the Soviet Internet (The MIT Press, 2016) and editor of Digital Keywords: A Vocabulary of Information Society and Culture (Princeton University Press, 2016). Raised in the midwest, he has also held fellowships at Yale, Harvard, and Columbia Universities, where he earned his PhD. He has also taught at New York University and the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. He is generally interested in the complex media historical and theoretical sources of the information age, especially how computing, broadly understood, takes shape differently across space, time, and epistemic power. Current projects concretize these in specific studies of critical global computing, comparative network history, death narratives for information age heroes, and larger histories of neuro-hubris, among others. More information at



Against Intelligence

My project, tentatively titled Against Intelligence, takes on the dawn of computing and its smartest communities since 1870, not 1970. An extension of my previous books, this project contends that the long twentieth-century has fundamentally misunderstood computing and subsequently much of the problems besetting the current information age—and that a first step toward addressing those issues lies in our language. Namely, the computer is not like the human brain; I seek to disassociate that empirically mistaken metaphor for processing from computing discourse and its formation in the midcentury politics of the mind (strategic, open, individual, and usually male). Some attention will be paid to investigating the death narratives haunting some of the "great men" of the information age and their ongoing search for technology-extended mortality. Instead, I seek a radical reclamation of intelligence (not quotients but quorums) in media tech discourse. To this end, the project examines the communicative turn to computing by examining how a series of small groups discovered, debated, and generated some of the most enduring and thorniest problems of the information age. Such problems of mortal minds are situated in a series of generative interdisciplinary “thought labs” often found in the dashes of the military-industrial-academic complex and their objects. Some include the coterminous emergence of neuroscience models and network schematics, the late nineteenth century American pragmatist preoccupation with logic and grace, the name-worshipping cult and graduate seminar behind early Soviet set theory and modern probability, the modern evolutionary synthesis of biology and statistics in Dobzhansky's labs, the postwar Macy Conferences on Cybernetics, the Ratio Club in London, and the Dartmouth Conferences on artificial intelligence, among others. 

In the light of these materials, I am particularly interested in following several organizing questions such as the historiographical potentials and pitfalls of small group computing history to pioneer a middle way history that focuses on neither captains of intellect nor captains of industry; a critique of the role of death in continental philosophy and the potential to recover alternatives in computing discourse (such as birth, generation, simulation, modeling, world-making, rendering, processing; as well as alternatives to the mind-computer analogy); and the operations by which computing research institutions have negotiated and repurposed, often for their own gain, private concerns about mortal minds and other forms of "smart media."