Donkey Kong's Legacy

About Microprocessors as Model Organisms and the Behavioral Politics of Video Games in AI

Keywords: artificial intelligence, machine learning, model organisms, lab studies, algorithm studies


The article discusses forms of contamination between human and artificial intelligence in computational neuroscience and machine learning research. I begin with a deep dive into an experiment with the legacy microprocessor MOS 6502, conducted by two engineers working in computational neuroscience, to explain why and how machine learning algorithms are increasingly employed to simulate human cognition and behavior. Through the strategic use of the microprocessor as “model organism” and references to biological and psychological lab research, the authors draw attention to speculative research in machine learning, where arcade video games designed in the 1980s provide test beds for artificial intelligences under development. I elaborate on the politics of these test beds and suggest alternative avenues for machine learning research to avoid that artificial intelligence merely reproduces settler-colonialist politics in silico.

Author Biography

Johannes Bruder, FHNW Academy of Art and Design – Institute of Experimental Design and Media Cultures

Johannes Bruder works at the intersection of anthropology, STS, and media studies. He studies the history and present of decision-making systems, and how these encode psychological categories, sociological models, artistic practices and speculative designs. His first book “Cognitive Code. Post-Anthropocentric Intelligence and the Infrastructural Brain” (2019) is based on fieldwork in neuroscience laboratories and provides deep insights into the bio-politics of contemporary machine learning. Johannes has a strong interest in experimenting with research methods, knowledge practices, alternative pedagogies and publication formats that unsettle disciplinary paradigms and render research in the humanities operational in real-world contexts. He is a senior researcher at the Critical Media Lab Basel and affiliated with the Department of Sociology and Anthropology, as well as Milieux at Concordia University Montréal.

How to Cite
Bruder, Johannes. 2021. “Donkey Kong’s Legacy: About Microprocessors As Model Organisms and the Behavioral Politics of Video Games in AI”. TSANTSA – Journal of the Swiss Anthropological Association 26 (June):71-84.