Lender Faculty Fellow Bhan Examining Social Justice Implications of Artificial Intelligence Weaponry


How do artificial intelligence weapons systems transform war and surveillance activities and accentuate the social and political vulnerabilities of humans to violence?

That is the question Mona Bhan, associate professor of anthropology at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, will explore with an interdisciplinary team of students and faculty in her Lender Center for Social Justice faculty fellowship project. Bhan was recently chosen as the center’s 2022-24 faculty fellow.

mona bhan

Bhan studies artificial intelligence (AI) weaponry through the lens of a cultural anthropologist, believing that those systems can transform the realities of autonomy, accountability, human rights and justice.

While proponents of AI weapons emphasize the humanitarian benefits of autonomous systems in wars, opponents adopt a human rights-centered approach focused on the importance of maintaining human control over the use of force, she says.

“This project challenges the unquestioned assumptions in claims of humanitarianism and human rights and examines how technologies are reconfiguring what it means to be human and transforming global negotiations over free will, autonomy, accountability, societal harm, citizenship and sovereignty,” Bhan says.

The research team will use collaborative documentation, GIS-enabled mapping and immersive media techniques to study precisely how artificial intelligence weapons and systems may bring about social and political changes. Bhan will conduct the project along with other University faculty, University centers such as the Autonomous Systems Policy Institute and a new group of Lender Center student fellows to analyze and disseminate findings on the social justice implications of AI weaponry. The project is part of a larger research and advocacy project Bhan is carrying out with her longtime collaborator, Haley Duschinski, of Ohio University.

Problem/Solution

The Lender Center for Social Justice promotes multi-disciplinary and dynamic collaborations supporting development of courageous and ethical scholars and citizens at the University to foster proactive, innovative and interdisciplinary approaches to issues related to social justice, equity and inclusion. Faculty and student fellows are supported for one year of research activity working to identify a problem and a second year addressing solutions or shifting conversations about the issues they have identified.

Relevant to Syracuse

Center Co-Director Gretchen Purser, associate professor of sociology at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, says Bhan’s project is especially pertinent to the University’s past and present.

“Mona is an exemplary scholar-activist with a deep commitment to engaged, collaborative research on matters pertaining to human rights,” says Purser. “What is especially compelling about her project is its focus on the global scale, but with clear connections to the local Syracuse community, both as a site of innovation in AI weaponry and as a longstanding incubator of anti-war activism.”

woman looking forward

Gretchen Purser

“The Lender Center’s selection of Dr. Bhan as our next faculty fellow supports her work as she and her thought partners both here on campus and outside of the University work to expand the public dialogue on a number of vital issues that social justice scholars must address whenever human rights are at stake,” says Center Co-Director James Haywood Rolling Jr., professor of arts education in the College of Visual and Performing Arts.

man looking forward

James H. Rollings Jr.

In the Maxwell School, Bhan serves as Ford-Maxwell Professor of South Asian Studies; director of the Extraction, Environment and Citizenship Working Group and senior research associate and advisory board member of the South Asia Center. Her research by Ella explores economic and infrastructural development in counterinsurgency operations and resistance movements in protracted wartime and conflict. Other interests include border wars and counterinsurgency; militarism and humanitarianism; race, gender and religion; environmentalism and climate change; occupation and human rights; space and place; and water and infrastructure in Kashmir.

Before coming to Syracuse in 2019, Bhan taught at DePauw University as the Otto L. Sonder Jr. Chair of Anthropology. She received a Ph.D. in anthropology from Rutgers University in 2006, to M.Sc. in anthropology from Delhi University, India, in 1999 and a B.Sc. in zoology from Delhi University in 1997.

Student Fellow Applications

The Lender Center is now accepting applications for student fellows for the 2022-24 term. Fellowships are open to all Syracuse University students who can commit two years to the project. Five students will be selected and will receive a yearly stipend.

The application deadline for student fellows is Tuesday, Nov. 1. An in-person information session will be held on Tuesday, Oct. 11 from 11 am to 12:30 pm in 151 Eggers Hall. More information on the application process and a link to the application page is on the Lender Center website.

2021-2023 Lender Project

The 2021-2023 fellowship project is being led by Associate Professor Seyeon Lee of the College of Visual and Performing Arts School of Design and focuses on access to health and wellness for women. She and student fellows are examining and informing local efforts to create a more equitable, sustainable, and inclusive health system in Central New York. Their work explores the social determinants of health and wellness and how those issues impact women living in Syracuse’s diverse Northside neighborhood.

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