An essay by Matteo Pasquinelli on the early history of AI for the Berkeley University journal Qui Parle.

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Abstract. It was not a cybernetician but a neoliberal economist who provided the first systematic treatise on connectionism or, as it would later be known, the paradigm of artificial neural networks. In his 1952 book The Sensory Order, Friedrich Hayek advanced a connectionist theory of the mind already far more advanced than the theory of symbolic AI, whose birth is redundantly celebrated in 1956 with the exalted Dartmouth workshop. In this text Hayek provided a synthesis of Gestalt principles and considerations of artificial neural networks, even speculating about the possibility of a machine fulfilling a similar function of “the nervous system as an instrument of classification,” auguring what we call today a “classifier algorithm.” This article shows how Hayek’s connectionist theory of the mind was used to shore up a specific and ideological view of the market and schematically reconstructs Hayek’s line of argumentation from his economic paradigm backward to his theory of cognition. Eventually, in Hayek’s interpretation, connectionism provides a relativist cognitive paradigm that justifies the “methodological individualism” of neoliberalism.

Citation: Matteo Pasquinelli, “How to Make a Class: Hayek’s Neoliberalism and the Origins of Connectionism.” Qui Parle, 1 June 2021, 30 (1): 159–184.