Via Phoebe Moore. Looks good >>
Following on from my post about the ways we might think about and research ideas of agency in relation to ‘automation’, it so happens that an accessible and interesting comment piece in the Grauniad by Brett Frischmann and Evan Selinger was published last week (not being on Twitter means I miss more of these sorts of things perhaps). Here’s a few of relevant lines (all links are from the original):
Most of the headlines about technology in the workplace relate to robots rendering people unemployed. But what if this threat is distracting us from another of the distorting effects of automation? To what extent are we being turned into workers that resemble robots?
Fears about humans becoming like machines go back longer than you might think. The sort of algorithmic management we see in the modern gig economy … has its roots in a management theory developed by Frederick Taylor in the early 20th century.
Technological innovations have made it increasingly easy for managers to quickly and cheaply collect, process, evaluate and act upon massive amounts of information. In our age of big data, Taylorism has spread far beyond the factory floor. The algorithmic management of the gig economy is like time cards on steroids.
It’s not just the intensity of the monitoring that is different. Surveillance is increasingly hidden. In Taylor’s analogue era, workers were acutely aware when they were being observed by management with stopwatches and notebooks. Today management tools are much less visible.
Taylorism starts from the assumption that employees are innate shirkers. While there will always be some who want to game the system and put in as little effort as possible, there are plenty who don’t. When the guiding assumption of management is that employees won’t be productive unless forced to be by constant observation, it engineers low morale and pushes people to act like resources that need to be micromanaged. Too often, we become what we’re expected to be.
I found this video strangely calming and attractive. Plus, it’s got art and drops in discussion of all of the dead white male philosophers we’re supposed to be into… what’s not to like eh? 🙂
This looks like it was a fascinating event…
Workshop hosted by the Digital Life Research Program
Date: Friday March 10, 2017
Time: 10am – 4.30pm
Venue: EB.G.21, Parramatta South campus
Among its many political preoccupations, 2016 was marked by an obsessive concern with the new powers of the machine to erase human labour and employment. Science fiction dystopias – among them, the French Trepalium and the Brazilian 3% – saddled older anxieties about a world without work to a more novel recognition of resource depletion and scarcity. Academic publishing houses, conference organisers, funding agencies and the press have responded with a deluge of content covering algorithms, automation and the Anthropocene. Meanwhile, a less conspicuous narrative about the decline of innovation has resurfaced with claims that the rate of fundamental new technology inventions is slowing and jeopardising long term global productivity returns. What happens when technology hits its limits? Velocity and volume excite machinic economies, but do little to confront some of the core problems and challenges facing planetary labour and life today.
This workshop brings together leading Australian scholars of technology and society with contemporary German and French reflections on the prevailing discourses of technology’s limits. Since the 1990s, Bernard Stiegler has been a leading philosopher and critic of technology, and in his recent book Automatic Society he directly tackles problems of automation and algorithms for the distribution of financial and social resources to populations increasingly bereft of economic capital and political agency. Building upon Frankfurt School critical theory and Kittlerian media theory, contemporary German critique intersects with similar questions by combining investigations of epistemology, history and the technical. The Australian take on these European developments is simultaneously appreciative and critical, though often oriented toward more regional conditions that arise in part due to different economic, cultural and political relations with Asia.
The morning session of the workshop will introduce current theoretical European work on technology. Daniel Ross will develop a critical introduction to Bernard Stiegler, whose recent work in Automatic Society and In the Disruption continues to mount a wide-ranging and provocative critique of technology. Armin Beverungen will then offer an overview of his research on algorithmic management and high-frequency trading, with Ned Rossiter introducing logistical media as technologies of automation and labour control. In the afternoon, Gay Hawkins will outline her theoretical interest in nonhuman and technical objects and their irreducible role in making humans and ecologies. A key empirical example will be the history of plastic and the emergence of its technical agency and capacity to reconfigure life. Nicholas Carah will follow with a discussion of his latest work on algorithms, brand management and media engineering. The workshop will close with an audience-driven panel session and discussion. These interventions will be held in conjunction with a close reading of the key texts below.
Attendance numbers will be limited so please register in advance. No registration fee required.
RSVP by 7 March on Eventbrite
- Armin Beverungen
Junior Director at the Digital Cultures Research Lab (DCRL) at Leuphana UniversitÃ¤t LÃ¼neburg & Visiting Fellow, Institute for Culture and Society, Western Sydney University
- Nicholas Carah
Author of Brand Machines, Sensory Media and Calculative Culture (2016)
- Gay Hawkins
Author of Plastic Water: The Social and Material Life of Bottled Water (2015)
- Liam Magee
Author of Interwoven Cities (2016)
- Nicole Pepperell
Author of Dissembling Capital (forthcoming, 2017)
- Daniel Ross
Translator of Bernard Stiegler’s Automatic Society (2016) and numerous other works
- Ned Rossiter
Author of Software, Infrastructure, Labor: A Media Theory of Logistical Nightmares (2016).
Co-chairs: Liam Magee and Ned Rossiter, co-convenors of the Institute for Culture and Society’s Digital Life research program.
Frank Pasquale (2017), Duped by the Automated Public Sphere
Lee Rainer and Janna Anderson [Pew Research Center] (2017), Code-Dependent: Pros and Cons of the Algorithm Age
Bernard Stiegler (2012), Die AufklÃ¤rung in the Age of Philosophical Engineering (opens in a new window)
Bernard Stiegler (2015), Escaping the Anthropocene
Bernard Stiegler (2015), On Automatic Society
Sonia Sodha [The Guardian] (2017), Is Finland’s basic universal income a solution to automation, fewer jobs and lower wages?
Bruce Braun (2014), A New Urban Dispositif? Governing Life in an Age of Climate Change
Nick Dyer-Witheford (2013), Contemporary Schools of Thought and the Problem of Labour Algorithms (opens in a new window)
Victor Galaz (2015), A Manifesto for Algorithms in the Environment
Victor Galaz et al. (2017), The Biosphere Code
Orit Halpern (2015), Cloudy Architectures
Erich Hörl (2014), Prostheses of Desire: On Bernard Stiegler’s New Critique of Projection
Yuk Hui (2015), Algorithmic Catastrophe: The Revenge of Contingency (opens in a new window)
International Labour Organisation (2016), ASEAN in Transformation
Lilly Irani (2015), The Cultural Work of Microwork
MIT Technology Review (2012), The Future of Work
Cathy O’Neill (2016), How Algorithms Rule Our Working Lives
Elaine Ou (2017), Working for an Algorithm Might Be an Improvement (opens in a new window)
The Guardian (2016), Robot Factories Could Threaten Jobs of Millions of Garment Workers
Tommaso Venturini, Pablo Jensen, Bruno Latour (2015), Fill in the Gap. A New Alliance for Social and Natural Sciences
- 10:00 –10:10: Liam Magee, Ned Rossiter: Welcome and Introduction
- 10:10–11:10: Daniel Ross
- 11:10–11:30: Q&A
- 11:30–11:45: Coffee
- 11:45–1:00: Armin Beverungen, Ned Rossiter
- 1:00–2:00: Lunch
- 2:00–3:15: Gay Hawkins, Nicholas Carah
- 3:15–4:15: Panel discussion responding to automation: Dan / Gay / Nicholas / Armin / Nicole – Liam & Ned to chair
- 4:15–4:30: Closing thoughts, future actions
Over on Antipode’s site there’s a blog post about an intervention symposium on “algorithmic governance” brought together by Jeremy Crampton and Andrea Miller, on the back of sessions at the AAG in 2016. It’s good that this is available open access and, I hope, helpful that it maybe puts to bed some of the definition wrangling that has been the fashion. Obviously, a lot draws on the work of geographer Louise Amoore and also of political theorist Antoinette Rouvroy, which is great.
Reading through the overview and skimming the individual papers provokes me to comment that I remain puzzled though by the wider creeping use of an unqualified “non-human” to talk about software and the sociotechnical systems they run/are run on… this seems to play-down precisely the political issues raised in this particular symposium – that the kinds algorithms concerned in this debate are written and maintained by people, they’re not somehow separate or at a distance… It’s also interesting to note that a sizeable chunk of the debates concern ‘data’ but the symposium doesn’t have “data” in the title, but maybe ‘data–’ is passé… 🙂
I’ve copied below the intro to the post, but please check out the whole thing over on Antipode’s site.
The latest issue of Gender, Place and Culture, and first of 2017, is online. It has Sharlene Mollett’s Jan Monk Distinguished Lecture,as well as a themed section on ‘Sexual and Gender Minorities in Disaster’. There’s also an article on ‘crazy cat ladies‘ (there is, honest).
Here’s Mollett’s abstract:
In 2015, the United Nations set in motion the International Decade for People of African Descent (2015–2024). While this mandate provides much to celebrate, its reliance on universal and human rights narratives collides against the reality of a persistent inferiorization of Afro-descendant communities as less–than–human. The paradoxical nature of human rights discourses notwithstanding, Afro-descendant women (ADW) leaders in Latin America embrace the opportunity provided by the UN Decade, to rethink human rights discourses and Afro-descendant inclusion in development practice. I draw insight in this article from black feminist and postcolonial thinking to contribute to a growing engagement with the concept of intersectionality in the subfield of feminist political ecology. Employing the concept of postcolonial intersectionality, I reflect on how ADW operationalize particular knowledges and their racialized gendered subjectivities to challenge regional imaginaries that limit livelihoods, access to natural resources and that cast Afro-descendants outside humanity. I connect such organized activism to that of quiet, every day and largely unrecognized acts of resistance among Afro-Antillean women situated in the growing residential tourism enclave along Panama’s Atlantic coast, in a place known as ‘Bocas’. This article draws from ethnographic and historical data collection and is supplemented with news articles, activist scholarship, government documents and secondary resources. Together, I center the intersectional logics of power in Bocas and argue that ADW lead a material and symbolic process of place-making, one that prioritizes life while struggling over carnal, gendered and racialized dispossession and the right to be recognized as human.
An echoborg is a hybrid agent composed of the body of a real person and the “mind” (or, rather, the words) of a conversational agent; the words the echoborg speaks are determined by the conversational agent, transmitted to the person via a covert audio-relay apparatus, and articulated by the person through speech shadowing.
Recently, the project team have demoed the project as part of an AHRC-funded network on Automation Anxiety and have written this up on the project website, here’s a snippet – it sounds like it is really compelling (I’ve not seen this in action):
Four people were interviewed by the AI which increasingly displayed an interest in eliciting help to reprogram itself. Proceedings were visible on a projector screen and the ‘audience’ of applicants gradually began to discuss the situation of the Echoborg and how to change it. At a certain point their reflections passed a threshold and the group fired into collective action, experimenting with various methods to bring the situation to a head in some way. The lively inventiveness of the group and the individual interviewees went a long way to confirming the interactive potential of this format of the work. It also gave Rik and Phil much to work with in considering the further development of the AI/Chatbot, the restricted delivery of narrative by the human Echoborg and the staging. This event also trialled a secondary, higher level, Echoborg character as part of the slow process of unfolding the potential for this Echoborg recruitment event to be a disruptive and thought and emotion provoking experience for all players.