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Digital Lives Monthly Seminar with Dr Kerry Holden: On Pipelines, Readiness and Annotative Labour: Political Geographies of AI and Data Infrastructures in Africa

When: Thursday, February 1, 2024, 12:45 PM - 2:00 PM
Where: Senior Common Room, the 4th floor, ArtsTwo Building, Queen Mary University of London, 335 Mile End Road, London, E1 4FQ


A part of the IHSS Digital Lives Research Programme's monthly seminar series on urgent matters related to the digital world

Data infrastructures are expanding rapidly across African societies, renewing the promise of modernisation and providing a massive data resource to the dominant tech powers of the world. Google’s private undersea cable, named Equiano, landed in West Africa with the intention of igniting data services, smart environments, investment opportunities and jobs. Non-governmental and multilateral agencies are busy supporting African governments in building regulatory frameworks that aim to ‘ready’ countries for the 4th industrial revolution. Young Africans labour in remodelled shipping containers to annotate data and train algorithms. While future promises pan out in wide-angled, utopian visions, this paper sets out an approach to understand African contexts as sites of heterogeneous experience of data infrastructures that are historically and politically contingent. The paper explores the spatial politics of extraction, surveillance and exploitation in three examples: the Equiano pipeline, the Artificial Intelligence (AI) Readiness Index, and the AI annotative labour force. We challenge the homogenising discourses of global tech companies and transnational governance institutions in accounting for the geographical histories of colonialism and its afterlives in African societies. We further call for empirical studies that examine the granular multiplicities of data, providing nuanced understandings of AI in and from Africa.

Dr Kerry Holden is a Senior Lecturer in Human Geography at the School of Geography. 

About the series

The IHSS Digital Lives Research Programme members invite those interested in digital matters to a series of seminars (with lunch) that host invited speakers discussing urgent matters related to the digital world. These monthly seminars aim to continue the conversations we started last year, welcome others to the ‘network,’ and share news of ongoing research and future plans for the digital collective at the Queen Mary University of London. 

For any queries regarding these seminars, get in touch with Dr Philippa Williams (School of Geography & Director of IHSS Research Programme Digital Lives ) at or Dr Cristina Moreno-Almeida (School of Languages, Linguistics and Film & IHSS Fellow) at

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