“The good robot”

Anki Vector personal robot

A fascinating and very evocative example of the ‘automative imagination’ in action in the form of an advertisement for the “Vector” robot from a company called Anki.

How to narrate or analyse such a robot? Well, there are lots of the almost-archetypical figures of ‘robot’ or automation. The cutesy and non-threatening pseudo-pet that the Vector invites us to assume it is, marks the first. This owes a lot to Wall-E (also, the robots in Batteries Not Included and countless other examples) and the doe-eyed characterisation of the faithful assistant/companion/servant. The second is the all-seeing surveillant machine uploading all your data to “the cloud”. The third is the two examples of quasi-military monsters with shades of “The Terminator”, with a little bit of helpless baby jeopardy for good measure. Finally, the brief nod to HAL 9000, and the flip of the master/slave that it represents, completes a whistle-stop tour of pop culture understandings of ‘robots’, stitched together in order to sell you something.

I assume that the Vector actually still does the kinds of surveillance it is sending up in the advert, but I have no evidence – there is no publicly accessible copy of the terms & conditions for the operation of the robot in your home. However, in a advertorial on ‘Robotics Business Review‘, there is a quote that sort of pushes one to suspect that Vector is yet another device that on the face of it is an ‘assistant’ but is also likely to be hoovering up everything it can about you and your family’s habits in order to sell that data on:

“We don’t want a person to ever turn this robot off,” Palatucci said. “So if the lights go off and it’s on your nightstand and he starts snoring, it’s not going to work. He really needs to use his sensors, his vision system, and his microphone to understand the context of what’s going on, so he knows when you want to interact, and more importantly, when you don’t.”

If we were to be cynical we might ask – why else would it need to be able to do all of this? –>

Anki Vector “Alive and aware”

Regardless, the advert is a useful example of how the bleed from fictional representations of ‘robots’ into contemporary commercial products we can take home – and perhaps even what we might think of as camouflage for the increasingly prevalent ‘extractive‘ business model of in-home surveillance.

Reblog> session on feminist digital geographies at AAG conference April 2019

Women Who Code

Via Gillian Rose. If you’re going to the AAG – this session is sure to be a good one.

Session on feminist digital geographies at AAG conference April 2019

This is a call for papers for a session at the next conference of the American Association of Geographers annual meeting in Washington DC 3-7 April next year on feminist digital geographies, organised by Agnieszka Leszczynski (Western University) and me. It’s sponsored by both the Digital Geographies and the Geographic Perspectives on Women Speciality Groups of the AAG.

In the context of a flurry of activities coalescing around digital geographies, we invite papers that consider the “enduring contours and new directions” of feminist theory, politics, and praxis for geographies concerned with the digital (Elwood and Leszczynski, 2018). We broadly welcome interventions that proceed from, utilize, and advance feminist epistemologies, methodologies, theory, critical practice, and activism.

We are open to submissions offering empirical, theoretical, critical, and methodological contributions across a range of topics, including but not limited to:

  • big data
  • digitally-mediated cities
  • artificial intelligence and algorithms
  • social media
  • feminist/digital/spatial theory
  • progressive alternatives and activism
  • feminist histories and genealogies

Please submit abstracts of no more than 200 words by October 15thto aleszczy@uwo.ca and gillian.rose@ouce.ox.ac.uk. Please include a title, your name, affiliation and email address in the abstract. We will respond to authors with confirmation by November 1st.


Elwood S and Leszczynski A (2018) Feminist digital geographies. Gender, Place & Culture25(5): 629-644.

Reblog> Internet Addiction watch “Are We All Addicts Now? Video


Via Tony Sampson. Looks interesting >

This topic has been getting a lot of TV/Press coverage here in the UK.Here’s a video of a symposium discussing artistic resistance, critical theory strategies to ‘internet addiction’ and the book Are We All Addicts Now? Convened at Central St Martins, London on 7th Nov 2017. Introduced by Ruth Catlow with talks by Katriona Beales, Feral Practice, Emily Rosamond and myself…

@KatrionaBeales @FeralPractice @TonyDSpamson @EmilyRosamond & @furtherfield

Dallas Smythe and ‘the consciousness industry’, or why ‘attention’ isn’t ‘labour’

Facial tracking system, showing gaze direction, emotion scores and demographic profiling

‘I’ll consume my consumers, [with] no sense of humour’ — Grace Jones, Corporate Cannibal

I keep failing to write up a talk I did over 18 months ago in Bristol for the Politics and Economics of Attention seminar convened by Jessica Pykett. My main argument is that the ways that a thing called ‘the attention economy’ gets figured by a lot of folks, including Christian Marazzi, and Bernard Stiegler to an extent, is that ‘attention’ is ‘work’ and therefore it can be factored through the marxian labour theory of value. Indeed, Jonathan Beller flips this and suggests that, rather, work is a form of attention and therefore it should be the ‘attention  theory of value’.

There’s another version of this story, which is also based in marxian theory. This is perhaps best articulated (in my limited reading) by Dallas Smythe regarding advertising and the broadcast media but can also be accessed from a rather different angle via David Harvey’s work on wine. In this version of the economisation of attention, attention is not ‘work’, instead attention is a commodity. The advertiser rents an  audience from the broadcaster, which is more-or-less demographically specific due to profiling. Smythe refers to this as a kind of ‘consciousness industry’ (presumably in a similar vein to the ‘culture industry’). This is more precisely the case with online advertising where, through all sorts of techniques, the profiling can appear to be a lot more specific. As Smythe has it in a 1977 paper for the Canadian Journal of Political and Social Theory:

What do advertisers buy with their advertising expenditures? … they are not paying for advertising for nothing… I suggest that hat they buy are the services of audiences with predictable specifications who will pay attention in predictable numbers … at particular times to a particular means of communication… As collectives these audiences are commodities. … Such markets establish prices in the familiar mode of monopoly capitalism.

A sub-industry sector of the consciousness industry checks to determine [that the audience pays attention]. … The behaviour of the members of the audience product under the impact of the advertising … content is the object of market research by a large number of independent market research agencies as well as by… the advertising corporation and in media enterprises.

The most important resource employed in producing the audience commodity are [sic.] the individuals and families in the nations which permit advertising.

So, while it may be useful for some to consider that the ways in which we are addressed as an audience and the kinds of ways we ‘pay attention’ can be figured as ‘labour’ that has a value and therefore exploits apparent leisure time as, instead, a continuation of work by other means, this does not perhaps tell the whole story. The advertising businesses are, certainly, using all sorts of ways to profile us and in some senses individualise a potential target for an advert but this is in order to serve up aggregates of profiles to advertisers as a commodity from which they extract rent. I should note Smythe does not see it that way but instead analyses the whole system of monopoly capitalism in which advertising is operating and in which there is, what he expertly articulates as:

…the contradictions produced within the audience commodity [which] should be understood more clearly … as between audience members serving a producers’ goods in the marketing of mass produced consumer goods and their work in producing and reproducing labour power.

Maybe I should write this up… it’s quite an interesting argument and as I said in my talk some time ago I think it highlights the issues with contradiction in the ‘attention commodity’ between it’s apparent uniqueness and a reproducibility as a ‘type’. There are a few avenues of critique open as a result. One, is to think the categorisation techniques as a pharmakon, perhaps to interrogate the processes of calculation/categorisation as rethink-able, another might be to look at ‘derivative’ nature of the categorisations, and how this produces a form of financialisation ( for e.g. following Louise Amoore) and another still might be to explore alternative valuations – whereby people take an active role in ‘selling’ themselves into this commodity market (for e.g. following Sarah Gold).

Are we all addicts now? Furtherfield 16 Sept – 12 Nov.

A still from the Black Mirror episode "the entire history of you"

This looks really interesting…

Are We All Addicts Now?

Furtherfield Gallery, 16 September – 12 November 2017.

Featuring Katriona Beales and Fiona MacDonald.

The exhibition and research project Are We All Addicts Now? explores the seductive and addictive qualities of the digital.

Artist Katriona Beales’ work addresses the sensual and tactile conditions of her life lived online: the saturated colour and meditative allure of glowing screens, the addictive potential of infinite scroll and notification streams. Her new body of work for AWAAN re-imagines the private spaces in which we play out our digital existence. The exhibition includes glass sculptures containing embedded screens, moving image works and digitally printed textiles. Beales’ work is complemented by a new sound-art work by artist and curator Fiona MacDonald : Feral Practice.

Beales celebrates the sensuality and appeal of online spaces, but criticises how our interactions get channeled through platforms designed to be addictive – how corporations use various ‘gamification’ and ‘neuro-marketing’ techniques to keep the ‘user’ on-device, to drive endless circulation, and monetise our every click. She suggests that in succumbing to online behavioural norms we emerge as ‘perfect capitalist subjects’.

For Furtherfield, Beales has constructed a sunken ‘bed’ into which visitors are invited to climb, where a glowing glass orb flutters with virtual moths repeatedly bashing the edges of an embedded screen. A video installation, reminiscent of a fruit machine, displays a drum of hypnotically spinning images whose rotation is triggered by the movement of gallery visitors. Beales recreates the peculiar, sometimes disquieting, image clashes experienced during her insomniac journeys through endless online picture streams – beauty products lining up with death; naked cats with armed police.

Entering the Machine Zone (2017) Katriona Beales

Glass-topped tables support the amorphous curves of heavy glass sculptures, which refract the multi-coloured light of tiny screens hidden inside. Visualisations of eye-tracking data (harvested live from gallery visitors) scatter across the ceiling. On the exterior wall of the gallery, an LED scrolling sign displays text Beales’ has compiled, based on comments from online forums about internet addiction.

Where Beales addresses the near-inescapability of machine-driven connection, Feral Practice draws us into the networks in nature. Mycorrhizal Meditation is a sound-art work for free download, accessed via posters in Furtherfield Gallery and across Finsbury Park. MM takes the form of a guided meditation, journeying through the human body and down into the ‘underworld’ of living soil, with its mycorrhizal network formed of plant roots and fungal threads. It combines spoken word and sound recordings of movement and rhythm made in wooded places. Feral Practice complicates the idea of nature as ‘ultimate digital detox’, and alerts us to the startling interconnectivity of beyond-human nature, the ‘wood-wide-web’ that pre-dates our digital connectivity by millennia. (Download Mycorrhizal Mediation here)

Reblog> Digital Neuroland

Rick Moranis in Ghostbusters with a brain scanner on his head

Via Tony Sampson. Freely available digital publication, follow the link

Digital Neuroland by Rizosfera

Very pleased to be part of this great series…



Introduction by Rizosfera
Digital Neuroland. An interview with Tony D. Sampson  by Rizosfera
Contagion Theory Beyond the Microbe
‘Tarde as Media Theorist’: an interview with Tony D. Sampson by Jussi Parikka
Crowd, Power and Post-democracy in 21st Century by Obsolete Capitalism
Crowds vs publics, Ukraine vs Russia, the Gaza crisis, the contagion theory and netica – a dialogue with Tony D. Sampson by Rares Iordache

Choose how you feel, you have seven options

A great piece by Ruben Van de Ven stemming from his artwork of the same name, published on the Institute of Network Culture site. Van de Ven, in a similar vein to Will Davies, deconstructs the logic of ‘affective’ computing, sentiment analysis and their application to what has been termed the ‘attention economy’. The article does a really go job of demonstrating how the knowledge claims, and the epistemologies (perhaps ontologies too), that are at work behind these technologies are (of course) deeply political in their application. Very much worth reading! (snippet below).

 ‘Weeks ago I saw an older woman crying outside my office building as I was walking in. She was alone, and I worried she needed help. I was afraid to ask, but I set my fears aside and walked up to her. She appreciated my gesture, but said she would be fine and her husband would be along soon. With emotion enabled (Augmented Reality), I could have had far more details to help me through the situation. It would have helped me know if I should approach her. It would have also let me know how she truly felt about my talking to her.’


This is how Forest Handford, a software developer, outlines his ideal future for a technology that has emerged over the past years. It is known as emotion analysis software, emotion detection, emotion recognition or emotion analytics. One day, Hartford hopes, the software will aid in understanding the other’s genuine, sincere, yet unspoken feelings (‘how she truly felt’). Technology will guide us through a landscape of emotions, like satellite navigation technologies guide us to destinations unknown to us: we blindly trust the route that is plotted out for us. But in a world of digitized emotions, what does it mean to feel 63% surprised and 54% joyful?

Please take the time to read the whole article.

Reblog> Accident tourist – driverless cars and ethics

Automated taxi figure in the 1990 film Total Recall

An interesting and well-written piece over on Cyborgology by Maya from Tactical Tech Collective (amongst many other things!)

I particularly like these bits copied below, but please read the whole post.

Accident Tourist: Driverless car crashes, ethics, machine learning

…I imagine what it may be like to arrive on the scene of  a driverless car crash, and the kinds of maps I’d draw to understand what happened. Scenario planning is one way in which ‘unthinkable futures’ may be planned for.

The ‘scenario’ is a phenomenon that became prominent during the Korean War, and through the following decades of the Cold War, to allow the US army to plan its strategy in the event of nuclear disaster. Peter Galison describes scenarios as a “literature of future war” “located somewhere between a story outline and ever more sophisticated role-playing war games”, “a staple of the new futurism”. Since then scenario-planning has been adopted by a range of organisations, and features in the modelling of risk and to identify errors. Galison cites the Boston Group as having written a scenario – their very first one-  in which feminist epistemologists, historians, and philosophers of science running amok might present a threat to the release of radioactive waste from the Cold War (“A Feminist World, 2091″).

The applications of the Trolley Problem to driverless car crashes are a sort of scenario planning exercise. Now familiar to most readers of mainstream technology reporting, the Trolley problem is presented as a series of hypothetical situations with different outcomes derived from a pitting of consequentialism against deontological ethicsTrolley Problems are constructed as either/or scenarios where a single choice must be made.


What the Trolley Problem scenario and the applications of machine learning in driving suggest is that we’re seeing a shift in how ethics is being constructed: from accounting for crashes after the fact, to pre-empting them (though, the automotive industry has been using computer simulated crash modeling for over twenty years); from ethics that is about values, or reasoning, to ethics as based on datasets of correct responses, and, crucially, of ethics as the outcome of software engineering. Specifically in the context of driverless cars, there is the shift from ethics as a framework of “values for living well and dying well”, as Gregoire Chamayou puts it, to a framework for “killing well”, or ‘necroethics’.

Perhaps the unthinkable scenario to confront is that  ethics is not a machine-learned response, nor an end-point, but as a series of socio-technical, technical, human, and post-human relationships, ontologies, and exchanges. These challenging and intriguing scenarios are yet to be mapped.

Coincidentally, in the latest Machine Ethics podcast (which I participated in a while ago), Joanna Bryson discusses these issues about the bases for deriving ethics in relation to AI, which is quite interesting.