Spencer Kaplan

Spencer Kaplan headshot 2021

Welcome! I’m a PhD student in the Yale Department of Anthropology, where I study technology and culture in North America and Europe. I study how human selves are fashioned and cultivated through technology. How do cultural beliefs about what it means to be human, and what it means to be a better human, animate the designs of emergent technologies and markets? And in turn, how do technical concepts and models configure our understanding of the world and the beings inhabiting it? Besides anthropology, I engage with science and technology studies, media theory, ethics, and critical theory. My ethnographic work has placed me among machine learning developers, blockchain/Web3 enthusiasts, and Wall Street bankers.

My research is motivated by previous experience working in technology startups and management consulting. I received an MPhil in Social Anthropology from the University of Cambridge and a BA in Economics from the University of Chicago.

During the 2022-2023 academic year, I am coordinating the Yale Department of Anthropology’s Ethnography and Social Theory Colloquium. I am also a Student Fellow at Yale Law School’s Information Society Project.

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Research Projects

Encoding Values

Machine learning research and development has emerged as my primary site for pursing these questions. I am following the current turns to “Human-Centered AI” and “AI Alignment” among US university and corporate machine learning projects. What is the human in Human-Centered AI? And what is a value towards which AI can be aligned? 

Financializing Identities