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Abstract

This essay advocates for a significant reorientation and reconceptualization of communication studies in order to accommodate the opportunities and challenges introduced by increasingly intelligent machines, autonomous decision making systems, and smart devices. Historically the discipline of communication has accommodated new technology by transforming these innovations into a medium of human interaction and message exchange. With the computer, this transaction is particularly evident with the development of computer-mediated communication (CMC) in the later half of the 20th century. In CMC, the computer is understood and investigated as a more-or-less neutral channel of message transfer and instrument of human interaction. This formalization, although not necessarily incorrect, neglects the fact that the computer, unlike previous technological advancements, also occupies the position of participant in communicative exchanges. Evidence of this is already available in the science of AI and has been explicitly described by some of the earliest writings on communication and the computer. The essay therefore 1) demonstrates that the CMC paradigm, although undeniably influential and successful, is insufficient and no longer tenable and 2) argues that communication studies needs to rework its basic framework in order to address and respond to the unique technological challenges and opportunities of the 21st century.

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