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Valerie Black

Valerie Black, a 6th-year PhD student in the Department of Anthropology, was one of 22 students recently awarded the Charlotte W. Newcombe Doctoral Dissertation Fellowship, the nation’s largest and most prestigious award for Ph.D. candidates in the humanities and social sciences addressing questions of ethical and religious values. 

Black’s award is in recognition of her ethnographic doctoral work on the topic of artificial intelligence in therapeutic mental health care. Her research asks the question, “What is at stake when AI becomes a caregiver?”

Her dissertation, Dehumanizing Care: An Ethnography of Mental Health Artificial Intelligence, draws on fieldwork at a mental health chatbot company in Silicon Valley and a mental health videogame company in Tokyo. This close-up portrayal of the startup world unravels the logic by which AI has become one of our best hopes for providing urgently needed care, while examining the important work AI could play as a caregiver enabling alternative relational possibilities. Black argues that AI caregiving reveals an underlying indeterminacy about what constitutes care and its purpose.

Before joining the PhD program, Black received a master’s degree in Asian Studies at Cal in 2014. Prior to that, she was a staff member for the Robbins Collection and Research Center, where then-deputy director Julianne Gilland encouraged and mentored her to pursue graduate studies.

In addition to her doctoral research, Black was a graduate student researcher for the Berkeley Disability Lab, and, last semester, worked as a graduate student instructor for the Introduction to Medical Anthropology course where she co-led an interactive weekly podcast.

Her doctoral advisors are professors Cori Hayden and Karen Nakamura and her dissertation fieldwork was funded by grants from both the National Science Foundation and the Wenner-Gren Foundation.