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Ekaterina Babintseva

Ekaterina Babintseva

Assistant Professor // History
Faculty


Office and Contact

Room: University Hall 120

Email: ebabints@purdue.edu


Prof. Ekaterina Babintseva is a historian of science and technology working at the intersections of human sciences and computing. She received her PhD in 2020 from the Department of History and Sociology of Science at the University of Pennsylvania. Prior to joining Purdue, she was a Hixon-Riggs Postdoctoral Fellow in Science and Technology Studies at Harvey Mudd College.

She is currently working on two book projects: one examines mid-century Artificial Intelligence by attending to the history Soviet and American pedagogical computing. Entitled “Cyberdreams of the Information Age: Learning with Machines in the Cold War United States and the Soviet Union,” the book traces how two Cold War superpowers circulated the knowledge about human cognition and computers while building special teaching computers that would replace human instructors. To build such computers, Soviet and American researchers had to translate the mechanisms of human cognition into the language accessible to computers. In this process, they made important contributions to mid-century approaches to artificial intelligence. While making visible the connections between artificial intelligence and pedagogical computing, the book shows that in both countries ideal minds – human or artificial – were supposed to productively serve the state.

Babintseva’s second book project, tentatively titled “From Machine Translation to Culture Debates,” examines the history of machine translation during the Cold War. In the 1950s, both the United States and the Soviet Union generously funded the opening of machine translation labs where linguists and computer scientists sought to automate the translation of written texts. Linguistics and translation are deeply attuned to the slightest differences in human languages and mentality. Computer science, on the other hand, is concerned with universals that could be applied across cultures and contexts. This project, thus, explores how researchers across the Cold War divide debated the possibility of making human languages accessible to a machine.

Babintseva strives to help students develop a critical perspective on the historical role of computer technology in society. She encourages students to ask questions about racial, gender and class ramifications of computing, artificial intelligence, and data technologies. Who has historically benefitted from data collection? Whose data has been mostly targeted? What kind of intelligence have artificial intelligence projects historically imitated? What are the social and ethical consequences of introducing numerical technologies into governance? She believes that attending to these questions can help students become responsible developers and consumers of contemporary digital technology.