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Margot Hanley
Margot Hanley

Cornell Tech

When (ET)


Producing Personhood: How Designers Perceive and Program Voice Assistant Devices


Artificial intelligence has become increasingly ingrained in the fabric of everyday life, yet sociologists know little about how technology producers design artificial intelligence. Margot will present her research which draws upon in-depth interviews with twenty-one voice assistant designers at major technology companies. The study examines how engineers weighed multiple and sometimes competing organizational goals in making decisions about how to produce “personhood” in voice assistant devices. More broadly, by bridging symbolic interaction, science and technology studies, and organizational sociology, this work theorizes how organizations shape the production of technology, and, specifically, how technology producers conceptualize and design personhood in artificial intelligence.


​​Margot Hanley is currently a Ph.D. candidate in Information Science at Cornell Tech. Margot's dissertation focuses on the ethical issues and policy considerations of commercial brain computer interfaces. More broadly her work examines the values embedded in and promoted by computational systems, in particular those which use machine learning and other data-driven techniques. Her research is motivated by normative questions surrounding the design, development, and use of these systems and methods, specifically how they may threaten or limit human autonomy, agency, and expression. At Cornell, Margot is advised by Helen Nissenbaum, and receives supervisory support from Karen Levy, Wendy Ju, and Frank Pasquale. Margot holds a B.A. from Oberlin College in Economics and an M.A from Columbia University in Sociology. Alongside pursuing her studies, Margot creates research-based art and has work currently on display at Mmuseumm in NYC.

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