James Steinhoff: AI and automation

By Katherine Nelson

James' hometown: Harrow, Ontario

James enjoys discussing the rise of artificial intelligence over drinks.

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James Steinhoff never pictured himself going to grad school or becoming a PhD student.

“I didn’t really take my undergraduate degree seriously until later on, when I realized I liked it,” James explains.

Today, the 33-year-old is in his final year of his PhD in Media Studies at Western University.

James, who also holds a Bachelor of Arts in English and Philosophy and a Master of Philosophy, both from the University of Windsor, says he made the switch over to Media Studies hoping there would be “slightly” more jobs in the industry. Ironically, James’ work focusses on artificial intelligence and its potential effects on automating work.

“You don’t necessarily need to have been thinking about graduate studies your whole life or come from a family that has a background in higher education [to pursue a PhD]. But you might like it.”
According to James, the rise in sensationalized headlines and mainstream media coverage of artificial intelligence proves that the subject requires “serious level-headed academic study” to better understand what it is and what it’s capable of. James hopes that his dissertation, which aims to “rip apart” what he believes are misinformed political economic theories, will lead to more “sober assessments” of technology and the media.

“It’s not that robots are going to take over like in Terminator. It’s that machines will be used to make profit…and the side effects will be very unpleasant,” James explains.

Between obtaining his degrees, James worked manual labour jobs that often involved setting up conference chairs and tables. Today, his PhD studies have given him the opportunity to attend conferences all over the world, including Iceland and Sweden—this time, as a guest or speaker.

Fun Fact

James recently ate fermented shark on a trip to Iceland.

When asked about his favourite part of FIMS, James answers, “The radical nature of a lot of the people in the faculty.” James says he was drawn to FIMS specifically because of the prospect of working with Dr. Nick Dyer-Witheford as his supervisor. Having previously heard of Dyer-Witheford’s work, James says he was impressed by “the breadth of knowledge that someone can have.”

This has proven to be a successful academic partnership thus far. In June, a book that the pair wrote alongside fellow FIMS professor Dr. Atle Mikkola Kjøsen, titled Inhuman Power: Artificial Intelligence and the Future of Capitalism, will be published by Pluto Press.

“It’s definitely the biggest thing I’ve ever done,” says James.

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Profiles in the Meet Our Students section are written by students in the Master of Media in Journalism & Communication program, who are enrolled in MMJC 9604 - Professional Writing.