Why not a Sociology of Machines? The Case of Sociology and Artificial Intelligence

  1. Steve Woolgar
  2. Woolgar, S. (1985). Why not a Sociology of Machines? The Case of Sociology and Artificial Intelligence. Sociology Sociology, 19, 557-572. doi:10.1177/0038038585019004005


In the light of the recent growth of artificial intelligence (AI), and of its implications for understanding human behaviour, this paper evaluates the prospects for an association between sociology and artificial intelligence. Current presumptions about the distinction between human behaviour and artificial intelligence are identified through a survey of discussions about AI and `expert systems’. These discussions exhibit a restricted view of sociological competence, a marked rhetoric of progress and a wide variation in assessments of the state of the art. By drawing upon recent themes in the social study of science, these discussions are shown to depend on certain key dichotomies and on an interpretive flexibility associated with the notions of intelligence and expertise. The range of possible associations between sociology and AI reflects the extent to which we are willing to adopt these features of AI discourse. It is suggested that one of the more important options is to view the AI phenomenon as an occasion for reassessing the central axiom of sociology that there is something distinctively `social’ about human behaviour.