The Intersection of AI, Colonialism, and Knowledge Dispossession

In the midst of the technological boom, the rise of AI has left an indelible mark on our daily lives, invoking both excitement and trepidation. As global powerhouses vie for supremacy in the Chip War, AI governance has become a pressing issue for policymakers. While data extraction from online sources has long fueled AI development, little attention has been given to the profound implications of these practices within the framework of colonial capitalism.

Data extraction, particularly through large language models, is not only a social and political concern but also contributes to various forms of colonial violence. By enabling the unjust extraction of value and knowledge, data practices perpetuate acts of material and epistemic violence. Importantly, they also create the conditions for new forms of racialized dispossession by reordering knowledge and value.

While some argue that contemporary data practices signify a new era of colonial capitalism, it is essential to recognize that colonialism encompasses more than a single dynamic of appropriation. The expansion of capitalist social relations, as well as the emergence of various forms of government, have long been intertwined with colonial power relations.

Data-centric epistemologies must be understood as expressions of coloniality of power, a system that suppresses alternative worlds and threatens life on Earth. The production and analysis of data globally involve exploitation, extraction, and externalization of harm, primarily perpetuated by historically rooted inequalities. From the concentration of wealth and global divisions of labor to ownership and control of data infrastructure, the colonial legacy heavily influences data practices.

Colonial orders of knowledge further perpetuate epistemicide and exclusion. The dominance of Northern epistemologies reinforces an abyssal division that excludes alternative ways of knowing that do not align with the Western scientific paradigm. AI systems, reliant on specific types of input data, contribute to the hierarchical exclusion of knowledge, reinforcing colonial violence.

However, advancements in computer science may also disrupt the status quo. Large-scale data sets and AI techniques have the potential to challenge exclusionary practices by expanding the scope of knowledge claims. By acknowledging the intersections of AI, colonialism, and knowledge dispossession, we can foster a more equitable and inclusive future.


Q: What is colonial capitalism?

A: Colonial capitalism refers to the economic system that emerged during the era of colonialism, characterized by the extraction of resources, labor, and wealth from colonized regions for the benefit of the colonial powers.

Q: How does data extraction contribute to colonial violence?

A: Data extraction perpetuates colonial violence by enabling unjust extractions of value and knowledge from historically marginalized communities, perpetuating material and epistemic violence, and creating conditions for racialized dispossession.

Q: How are data practices influenced by colonial power relations?

A: Colonial power relations shape data practices through patterns of dependency, concentrations of wealth, global divisions of labor, and hegemonic legal and institutional arrangements. These inequalities are reflected in the production, appropriation, and analysis of data.

Q: What is epistemicide?

A: Epistemicide refers to the suppression or exclusion of alternative ways of knowing that do not align with dominant knowledge systems. In the context of data science and AI, epistemicide manifests as the hierarchical exclusion of knowledge, reinforcing colonial violence.

Q: Can advancements in AI challenge exclusionary practices?

A: Yes, advancements in computer science, particularly large-scale data sets and AI techniques, have the potential to disrupt exclusionary practices by expanding the scope of knowledge claims and challenging the dominance of specific epistemologies.

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