Julia Ticona AI Research Project Receives NEH Grant

Julia Ticona, Member in the School of Social Science, who co-directs the research project, “Imagining AI in organized labor: Struggles over the value of cultural work,” has been awarded a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). Ticona, with collaborator Caitlin Petre of Rutgers University, will explore how cultural workers like writers, artists, and journalists are responding to the threat of automation, driven by generative artificial intelligence systems like DALL-E and ChatGPT.

“During this past summer’s WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes, Caitlin and I were fascinated by the ways that creative and cultural workers were pushing guardrails for the use of AI to the top of their list of demands,” Ticona said. “Given the long history of labor unions pushing back against tech in many different fields, especially in manufacturing, we wondered how these very different types of workers were both imagining and pushing back against AI.”

As part of their grant-funded research over the next two years, Ticona, a sociologist at the University of Pennsylvania Annenberg School of Communication, and Petre will interview creative and cultural workers to understand how they see AI in their fights for labor rights.

For the 2023–24 academic year, Ticona is a collaborator in the School of Social Science’s PLATFORM theme seminar, which “aims to incite scholarly thinking across platforms of different kinds, and in different mediums—including analog, electronic, and virtual—to explore the norms and practices that organize, permeate, and stem from them.” The theme seminar is led by Alondra Nelson, Harold F. Linder Professor in the School, whose transformative leadership in the field of artificial intelligence resulted in the White House’s adoption of a blueprint for an AI Bill of Rights in 2022.

During her IAS term, Ticona’s research has focused on social inequalities, digital technologies, work, and culture, and she is currently writing a book about care work, platforms, and the internet.

Announced by the NEH on April 16, 2024, following a nationally competitive process, the award is among 19 projects in the category, “Dangers and Opportunities of Technology: Perspectives from the Humanities,” in support of “humanistic research that explores the relationship between technology and society.”