Sociotechnical Change: Tracing Flows, Languages, and Stakes Across Diverse Cases| “A Fountain Pen Come to Life”: The Anxieties of the Autopen

Pegah Moradi, Karen Levy


The autopen is a technology widely used by celebrities and politicians—often covertly—to automatically sign letters and other media. When the autopen’s use comes to light, public indignation often follows; learning that something has been signed robotically, rather than by hand, seems to breach the relational values assumed to inhere in the social ritual of signature. We describe three controversies involving the autopen to probe how sociotechnical change can reveal latent values and challenge assumptions about authenticity. The autopen provides a useful analog to emerging anxieties about AI-mediated communication and synthetic media.


autopen, AI-mediated communication, synthetic media, automation, authenticity, labor

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