New Books In Language

Jennifer Petersen, "How Machines Came to Speak: Media Technologies and Freedom of Speech" (Duke UP, 2022)



In How Machines Came to Speak: Media Technologies and Freedom of Speech (Duke University Press, 2022), Jennifer Petersen constructs a genealogy of how legal conceptions of “speech” have transformed over the last century in response to new media technologies. Drawing on media and legal history, Petersen shows that the legal category of speech has varied considerably, evolving from a narrow category of oratory and print publication to a broad, abstract conception encompassing expressive nonverbal actions, algorithms, and data. She examines a series of pivotal US court cases in which new media technologies—such as phonographs, radio, film, and computer code—were integral to this shift. In judicial decisions ranging from the determination that silent films were not a form of speech to the expansion of speech rights to include algorithmic outputs, courts understood speech as mediated through technology. Speech thus became disarticulated from individual speakers. By outlining how legal definitions of speech are ind