Imagine all the people deepfaked

A person removing a mask

Via Kottke.

This ‘deepfake’ video of lots of current and former world leaders and other famous people is interesting and provokes all sorts of questions. Some suggest legislation against them, which is what the US seems to be pursuing, but that of course asks further questions about how to ‘police’ them and who has agency. There are, perhaps, some interesting resonances with the increasing use of performance holograms to re-animate dead performers – but there, of course, the legal issues are different. Nevertheless, all sorts of ideas, aesthetic, ethical and otherwise, about ‘authenticity’ crop up (e.g. this from New Scientist, or this on trust in ‘evidence’ re ‘deepfakes’), which we will increasingly be provoked into discussing.

It is interesting, I think, that while those of us in what we call ‘critical’ social sciences or humanities have been developing fairly nuanced articulations of identity and subjectivity, arguing they are not necessarily essential and acknowledging how they are performed (for example), contemporary digital/ social media, and our uses of them, have forged new norms of ‘authenticity’ in relation to identity. Facebook wants ‘true’ names, for instance. “Finsta” (‘f’ denoting ‘fake’), the phenomenon of setting up hidden, often pseudonymous, Instagram accounts – only for selected friends (as opposed to your curated “rinsta” account (‘r’ denoting ‘real’)) shows how these two understandings of the performative nature of identity and the construction of a normative insistence on ‘authenticity’ collide. We might reasonably ask, for instance, why the ‘finsta’/’rinsta’ labels don’t actually mean the reverse if the more public of the two accounts is heavily curated and the ‘secret’ one is in some senses then more ‘authentic’.

‘Deepfakes’ are, amongst other things, a sensory ‘trick’, an attempt to somehow fool the conscious and sub-conscious habitual discernment of what feels whatever it is we mean by ‘authentic’, ‘genuine’ or ‘real’. In some senses, ‘deepfakes’ reveal back to us the extent to which digital media may have shifted how we pay attention and how we feel (about ourselves, others and the world around us) with and through them. Digital media cultivate attention in different ways, many of them perhaps oriented towards a capitalist imperative, also, perhaps, with them we cultivate forms of paying attention. If this is the case then, as was argued in terms of the potency of TV advertising, we may begin to ‘see through’ the ‘tricks’ precisely because we are bombarded with them (for example, the Putin bits in the video above are not very convincing to my eye). Or, to be pessimistic, we may simply begin to assume nothing can be trusted, that all media is created in bad faith, which of course prompts discussions of a crisis of democracy because how can a population make informed decisions without ‘trustworthy’ sources.

“Ready Lawnmower Player Man One”, or VR’s persistent future

For the last couple of years I have given a lecture that takes the “Virtual/Real” distinction and deconstructs it using various bits of geographical theory. I also talk about the enduring trope of the sort of eschatological narrative of VR, tying it back to a little bit of history, mainly focusing on how this has been propagated in pop culture. This year, for fun, I have decided to be a little bit more creative than resorting to my usual trick of showing the trailer for Lawnmower Man or Ready Player One – I’ve made a quick mashup of the two, which I think show quite nicely how the underlying narratives of the ‘virtual’ somehow counterposed to the ‘real’ but also in some way ‘crossing over’ is an enduring theme.

The other enduring theme here is that the forms of gameplay drawn upon are characterised as highly masculine (and normatively heterosexual – no queering of the digital here, sadly), which is something I will try to also blog about sometime…

Other film examples might include:

Bernard Stiegler: “Rethinking an industrial policy in the era of the Anthropocene and automation”? [translated]

A young man standing in a cloud of yellow smoke

I recently came across an edited interview with Bernard Stiegler published on the website of Philosophie Magazine (17/12/18) [a] in which Stiegler ties together a very brief reading of the ‘yellow vests’ phenomena with the experiments he has been leading in the creation of an ‘economy of contribution’ – a more-or-less as a ethico-political-economic response to the ‘Anthropocene’. It is important to note here that for Stiegler not only means the current global cultural/environmental/social crisis embodied in a new ‘epoch’ but also significantly means the apparently rapid changes in employment/work largely due to technology. I have translated conversations with Stiegler about this topic before and these might be helpful in fleshing out the argument translated below, especially:

Here, in a similar vein to the discussion of previous periods of civil unrest in France (see in particular the books: The Decadence of Industrial Democracy, Uncontrollable Societies of Disaffected Individuals and The Lost Spirit of Capitalism) Stiegler diagnoses a form of immiseration that comes from a loss of capacities that needs to be addressed through a form of therapeutic response. The ‘yellow vests’ movements are a symptom of a broader cultural-environmental-social ‘entropy’ that is ‘The Anthropocene’ needs to be addressed through a re-imagined industrial policy – to engage in what he terms a form of ‘negentropy’. having said all of this, what is important perhaps about this brief interview is that it locates pragmatic action by talking through what Stiegler and colleagues are doing in the Plaine Commune experiments (for more information follow the links above).

As I have previously observed, I still find it curious that underlying the apparent radicalism of re-thinking industrial strategy, acting together towards (political) therapeutic ends, is a strange sort of unflinching (dare-I-say even conservative) faith in the state and institutions. In particular, the model for the central strategy of ‘contributory income’ is the intermittent entertainment policy of the French government for subsidising freelance and somewhat precarious forms of work in the ‘creative industries’. I’m not criticising this, I think it merits greater discussion – not least because it is being trialed in Seine-Saint-Denis – but there’s something curious about this rather measured scheme being central to the strategy, given the almost apocalyptic and incredibly urgent tone of books like The Neganthropocene and Age of Disruption.

ADD. 24/01/19. I think I probably missed a final step to the thought expressed in the paragraph above: while the scheme for a ‘contributory income’ (based upon the intermittent scheme) currently underway in Plaine Commune is perhaps limited, and while the idea of such an income is, in-itself not especially ‘revolutionary’, perhaps I/we should see this as the beginning of a reorientation – the instigation of a different/new therapeutic ‘tendency’, in Steigler’s terminology – away from a competitive individualised economic rationale towards a collective means of flourishing together, whilst also acknowledging that we need to take some form of collective responsibility. In that vein, as others have pointed out, Stiegler’s ‘activist’ thought/activities take on a particular ethical/moral stance (in this way I have some sympathy with Alexander Galloway calling Stiegler a ‘moral philosopher’).

As usual I have included in square brackets original French, where I’m unsure of the translation, or clarifications. I have also maintained, in the Conversation piece, all of the original francophone hyperlinks unless there is a clear anglophone alternative.

I welcome comments or corrections!

Notes

a. The interview appears in a section entitled Gilets Jaune, et maintenant– something like ‘Yellow vests, now what?’

Bernard Stiegler: “Rethinking an industrial policy in the era of the Anthropocene and automation”

For this thinker of technics, the “yellow vests” movement highlights the desperate need for a new policy that would value work rather than employment. Among his proposals is the widening of the government scheme for irregular workers in the creative sector to everyone.

I was struck by the rapid evolution of the “yellow vests” movement, by the way it was presented and in which it was perceived. In the beginning, occupations of roundabouts [and crossroads] were reminiscent of the Tea Party phenomenon in the United States, which paved the way for Donald Trump’s election, and of Sarah Palin’s astonishing statement: “I like the smell of exhaust emissions!”However, despite the presence of the “ultra-right” which is of course very dangerous, the rise of this movement has evolved positively – and very unexpectedly. Compared with the “protest” scene, well-known in France for decades, the “yellow vests” are obviously a very singular and very interesting event, beyond its extreme ambiguities. Amongst the demands made by these leaderless demonstrators, the proposal to create a deliberative assembly for ecological transition is particularly illustrative of what fundamentally new emerging from this movement. This is confirmed by the encouraging sign, which must be interpreted without being under any illusions: the protest and climate march at a junction, in Bordeaux, on the 8th of December.

When we listen to the “yellow vests”, we hear the voices of people who are a bit lost, often living in unbearable conditions but with the virtue of expressing and highlighting our contemporary society’s limits and immense contradictions. In the face of this, the Macron government seems unable to take the measure of the problems being raised. I fear that the measures announced by the President on the 11th of December resolve nothing and fix in place the movement for the longer term, precisely because it expresses – at least symptomatically – the collective awareness of the contemporary crisis. The political horizon throughout Europe is not at all pleasant: the extreme right will probably draw the electoral benefits of this anger, while failing to answer the questions legitimately posed by “yellow vests” movement. This highlights the lack of a sense of history by President Macron and his ministers, and equally underlines the vanity of those who pretend to embody the left, who are just as incapable of making even the simplest statement at the height of what is the first great social crisis characterised by the Anthropocene. 

For me, a “man of the left”, the important question is what would be a leftist comprehensive industrial policy to take up the challenges of the Anthropocene and automation – which is to say, also addressing “Artificial Intelligence”. To confront this question is to attempt to overcome what is not thought in Marxian criticism, namely: entropy. All of the complex systems, both biologically and socially, are doomed to differential loss – of energy, biodiversity, interpretation of information – that leads to entropic chaos. The concept of negentropy, taken from the works of Erwin Schrödinger, refers to the ability of the living to postpone the loss of energy by differentiating organically, creating islands and niches locally installing a “différance” (as Derrida said) through which the future [l’avenir] is a bifurcation in an entropic becoming [devenir entropique] in which everything is indifferent. 

The fundamental point here is that, while entropy is observed at the macroscopic level, negentropy only occurs locally through energy conversion in all its forms – including libidinal energy. Freud was, with Bergson, the first to understand this radical change in point of view required by entropy. The “nationalist retreat” is a symptomatic expression of the entropic explosion provoked by the globalization [that is the] Anthropocene. This needs to be addressed by a new economic and industrial policy that systematically values negentropy. 

It is in response to such issues that the Institute of Research and Innovation and Ars Industrialis with Patrick Braouezec (President of the Plaine Commune public territorial establishment) are leading an experiment in Seine-Saint-Denis. In this district of 430,000 we are experimenting with putting in place a local economy of contribution, based upon a new macro-economy at the national level. Above all, this scheme values work rather than employment and aims to generalize the system of intermittent entertainment [added emphasis] [1]: The idea is to be able to guarantee people 70% of their most recent salary in the periods when they do not work, provided that within ten months they begin another freelance [intermittent] job. In the case of freelance [intermittent] performers, they must work for 507 hours, after which they have “replenished their right” to a contributory income. We are currently constructing workshops in the areas of child care, quality urban food, construction and urban trades, the conversion of combustion vehicles into clean vehicles, and so on. This experiment is supported by the Fondation de France, Orange, Dassault Systèmes, Caisse des Dépôts et Consignations, Societe Generale, Afnic Foundation and Emmanuel Faber, General Manager of Danone. Every one of which are stakeholders in the search for a new conception of industrial economy fully mobilized in the fight against the Anthropocene and for the restoration of very-long-term economic solvency, based on investment, not speculation. It is by taking bold initiatives of this kind that we will truly respond to the “yellow vests”.

Notes

1. There is no direct translation for ‘intermittent entertainment’/ ‘intermittents du spectacle’ – this refers to state-subsidised freelance workers in the entertainments industry, an arrangement backed by long-standing legislation in France to support their native creative sectors.

Bernard Stiegler’s Age of Disruption – out soon

Bernard Stiegler being interviewed

Out next year with Polity, this is one of the earlier of Stiegler’s ‘Anthropocene’ books (in terms of publication in French, see also The Neganthropocene) explicating quite a bit of the themes that come out in the interviews I’ve had a go at translating in the past three years (see: “The time saved through automation must be given to the people”; “How to survive disruption”; “Stop the Uberisation of society!“; and “Only by planning a genuine future can we fight Daesh“). Of further interest, to some, is that it also contains a dialogue with Nancy (another Derrida alumnus). This book is translated by the excellent Daniel Ross.

Details on the Polity website. Here’s the blurb:

Half a century ago Horkheimer and Adorno argued, with great prescience, that our increasingly rationalised and Westernised world was witnessing the emergence of a new kind of barbarism, thanks in part to the stultifying effects of the culture industries. What they could not foresee was that, with the digital revolution and the pervasive automation associated with it, the developments they had discerned would be greatly accentuated and strengthened, giving rise to the loss of reason and to the loss of the reason for living. Individuals are overwhelmed by the sheer quantity of digital information and the speed of digital flows, and profiling and social media satisfy needs before they have even been expressed, all in the service of the data economy. This digital reticulation has led to the disintegration of social relations, replaced by a kind of technological Wild West, in which individuals and groups find themselves increasingly powerless, driven by their lack of agency to the point of madness.
How can we find a way out of this situation? In this book, Bernard Stiegler argues that we must first acknowledge our era as one of fundamental disruption and detachment. We are living in an absence of epokh? in the philosophical sense, by which Stiegler means that we have lost our noetic method, our path of thinking and being. Weaving in powerful accounts from his own life story, including struggles with depression and time spent in prison, Stiegler calls for a new epokh? based on public power. We must forge new circuits of meaning outside of the established algorithmic routes. For only then will forms of thinking and life be able to arise that restore meaning and aspiration to the individual.
Concluding with a substantial dialogue between Stiegler and Jean-Luc Nancy in which they reflect on techniques of selfhood, this book will be of great interest to students and scholars in social and cultural theory, media and cultural studies, philosophy and the humanities generally.

(More) Gendered imaginings of automata

My Cayla Doll

A few more bits on how automation gets gendered in particular kinds of contexts and settings. In particular, the identification of ‘home’ or certain sorts of intimacy with certain kinds of domestic or caring work that then gets gendered is something that has been increasingly discussed.

Two PhD researchers I am lucky enough to be working with, Paula Crutchlow (Exeter) and Kate Byron (Bristol), have approached some of these issues from different directions. Paula has had to wrangle with this in a number of ways in relation to the Museum of Contemporary Commodities but it was most visible in the shape of Mikayla, the hacked ‘My Friend Cayla Doll’. Kate is doing some deep dives on the sorts of assumptions that are embedded into the doing of AI/machine learning through the practices of designing, programming and so on. They are not, of course, alone. Excellent work by folks like Kate Crawford, Kate Devlin and Gina Neff (below) inform all of our conversations and work.

Here’s a collection of things that may provoke thought… I welcome any further suggestions or comments 🙂

Alexa, does AI have gender?


Alexa is female. Why? As children and adults enthusiastically shout instructions, questions and demands at Alexa, what messages are being reinforced? Professor Neff wonders if this is how we would secretly like to treat women: ‘We are inadvertently reproducing stereotypical behaviour that we wouldn’t want to see,’ she says.

Prof Gina Neff in conversation with Ruth Abrahams, OII.

Predatory Data: Gender Bias in Artificial Intelligence

it has been reported that female-sounding assistive chatbots regularly receive sexually charged messages. It was recently cited that five percent of all interactions with Robin Labs, whose bot platform helps commercial drivers with routes and logistics, is sexually explicit. The fact that the earliest female chatbots were designed to respond to these suggestions
deferentially or with sass was problematic as it normalised sexual harassment.

Vidisha Mishra and Madhulika Srikumar – Predatory Data: Gender Bias in Artificial Intelligence

The Gender of Artificial Intelligence

Chart showing that the gender of artificial intelligence (AI) is not neutral
The gendering, or not, of chatbots, digital assistants and AI movie characters – Tyler Schnoebelen

Consistently representing digital assistants as femalehard-codes a connection between a woman’s voice and subservience.

Stop Giving Digital Assistants Female Voices – Jessica Nordell, The New Republic

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

Twitter

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

Tarleton Gillespie on “Custodians”

Facebook logo reflected in a human eye

Custodians of the Internet – Tarleton GillespieOver on the Culture Digitally site Tarleton Gillespie discusses his new book Custodians of the Internet, reflecting on some of the meanings of “custodian” and how they variously relate to the topic of the book – content moderators for social media services. Gillespie is an astute observer and analyst of contemporary ‘digital culture’ (I struggle to think of another noun right now) and the issue of moderation is certainly timely.

 I thought I would explain the book’s title, particularly my choice of the word “custodians.” This title came unnervingly late in the writing process, and after many, many conversations with my extremely patient friend and colleague Dylan Mulvin. “Custodians of the Internet” captured, better than many, many alternatives, the aspirations of social media platforms, the position they find themselves in, and my notion for how they should move forward.

Read more on Culture Digitally.

7th European Colloquium on Culture, Creativity and Economy 4-5 Oct ’18

Glitched 1980s pepsi advert

May be of interest to people that follow this blog… Via Brian Hracs:

7th European Colloquium on Culture, Creativity and Economy

October 4-5, 2018 – Stockholm, Sweden

The myriad links between culture, creativity and economic practice are major topics of intellectual discussion. Culture and creativity are collaboratively practiced by a range of workers and communities — from artists to entrepreneurs— and in a range of occupational, organizational, institutional and spatial settings. Indeed, far from being restricted to global cities and urban settings, a growing body of research highlights the presence and uniqueness of cultural and creative activities in suburban and rural settings. Moreover, digital technologies and processes of globalization continue to create, destroy, and restructure the markets and conditions under which cultural creation, production, intermediation, dissemination and consumption are undertaken and experienced. These are in turn underpinned by a plurality of micro-spatialities and micro-processes through which the dynamics and spaces of culture and creativity emerge. More than ever perhaps there is a need for critical and radical debate that addresses questions about the value and values inherent in culture and creativity; questions surrounding the ownership and marketization of culture and creativity; and the dynamics of cultural and creative spaces, institutions, production and work.

The European Colloquium on Culture, Creativity and Economy is a European network of excellence and CCE Stockholm 2018 is the 7th annual meeting of the Colloquium. The Colloquium aims at bringing together junior and senior scholars from different disciplines (e.g. sociology, cultural and urban studies, geography) and locations around the world in an exciting, intense and dynamic meeting aimed at generating not only new networks but new knowledge, approaches, and practices. The Colloquium will be based for one day at Sweden’s arts grants agency and for one day at Stockholm’s largest modern and contemporary art museum. Each day the program will partly reflect discussion themes related to and inspired by the institution and space we are in; and will involve dialogue with people from these institutions. Day 1 will be, at least partly, focused on the dynamics of contemporary creative practice and work, and work organization in arts and cultural production. Day 2 will focus partly on cultural exhibition, public-private interactions, and cultural consumption. These issues will form a background agenda but as in previous years the Colloquium welcomes a variety of perspectives and aims to reflect participants interests and research on the multiple intersections between culture, creativity and economy. The event will give participants the chance to share ideas, receive feedback on current research and to preview cutting-edge research in the field.

[…]

Applying

The conference organizers will select up to 30 individuals to attend. To be considered you must send the following to Taylor Brydges (taylor.brydges@humangeo.su.se) by Friday, June 8, 2018. Late applications will not be considered. Participants will be informed of their acceptance late June. Please include the following information in a word document: – A short bio of approximately 200 words – A personal photo of sufficient quality to be included in the program – A 250 word statement of current interests or what you consider the most important research issue to address in the coming years

Once Accepted

By September 16, 2018, please send Taylor Brydges (taylor.brydges@humangeo.su.se) a paper for review and discussion. The choice of your contribution is open – it could be your latest published paper, a draft paper, a grant proposal, or an outline of an idea.

More information is available from the CFP.

Reblog> CFP: The platformization of cultural production

Facebook logo reflected in a human eye

Meant to post last week but, y’know – stuff happens to get in the way…

This looks really interesting from Brooke Erin Duffy. Deadline for abstracts is TOMORROW.

THE PLATFORMIZATION OF CULTURAL PRODUCTION

Special collection of Social Media + Society (Open Access Journal)
Abstract submission deadline: May 15, 2018

Full paper submission deadline: September 15, 2018

Editors: Brooke Erin Duffy (Cornell University), David Nieborg (University of Toronto), Thomas Poell (University of Amsterdam)

This thematic issue explores the “platformization of cultural production” (Nieborg & Poell, 2018)  against the backdrop of wider transformations in the technologies, cultures, and political economies of digital media. Platformization describes the process by which major tech companies—GAFAM (Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon, and Microsoft) in the West, and the so-called “three kingdoms” of the Chinese internet (Baidu, Alibaba, and Tencent) in Asia—are reconfiguring the production, distribution, and monetization of cultural products and services. The logic of platformization is impacting traditional cultural industries (e.g., music, news, museums, games, and fashion), as well as emergent digital sectors and communities of practice, such as livestreaming, podcasting, and “Instagramming.” Accordingly, new industrial formations and partnerships are constantly being wrought; for example, newspapers increasingly host their content on Facebook, and game developers offer their products in app stores operated by Apple and Google.

Given the acceleration and intensification of digital platforms in the cultural circuit, there is a pressing need to interrogate the stakes of platformization for content producers and for the cultural commodities they circulate among digitally networked audiences. We invite theoretical and/or empirical contributions addressing platform power and political economies vis-à-vis cultural production. Owing to the relative recency of research on platformization, this topic warrants an interdisciplinary focus including scholarship from such fields as media and communication studies, platform studies, software studies, political economy of communication, (media) production studies, and business studies. Platformization exacts widely variable costs across different spheres of life, and regional and sectoral boundaries. We therefore invite scholars to contribute papers which advance our understanding of how the platformization of particular sectors and practices takes shape within specific geo-national contexts, as well as how this involves new modes of content moderation and algorithmic curation, evolving forms of labour exploitation, and app-based systems of distribution and monetization.

We are especially interested in articles that shed new light across these themes:

*Theoretical approaches to platformization and the social, cultural and technological contexts of platform-dependent modes of cultural production.

*Intersectional approaches that are sensitive to the gendered, classed, and racial specificity of platform-dependent modes of cultural production.

*Political economic approaches to platformization, including the implications for cultural producers and labor relations, as well as relationships among different institutional actors in platform ecosystems.

*Regional approaches to platformization. For example, the impact of the platformization of cultural industries in particular countries, or regions, such as the European Union.

*Sectoral studies of specific industry sectors and modes of cultural production and circulation such as journalism, game and music production, museums, or emerging ‘platform-native’ practices such streaming and vlogging.

*Historical approaches to platformization. Contributions that investigate the transformation of specific production practices as they become integrated with, or dependent on digital platforms.

*The policy implications of platformization on a local, national or regional level, or studies of policy interventions.

*Formal and informal efforts to resist platformization, such as the development of platform independent subscription-based distribution and monetization models.

*Infrastructural approaches that are sensitive to the material dimensions of platform-based modes of cultural production.

*Methodological interventions, which reflect on the methodologies employed when researching cultural production in platform ecosystems.

Timeline

750-word abstracts should be emailed to cfp@platformization.net by May 15, 2018. The abstract should articulate: 1) the issue or research question to be discussed, 2) the methodological or critical framework used, and 3) indicate the expected findings or conclusions. Decisions will be communicated to the authors by June 1, 2017.

Full papers of the selected abstracts should be submitted by September 15, 2018 to be discussed in the Toronto workshop.

On October 8-9, 2018 (right before AoIR 2018-Montreal), the special collection editors will organise a 2-day event hosted by the University of Toronto. Day 1 will feature a workshop hosted by the McLuhan Centre for Culture and Technology. Workshop participation is not a condition for being included in the special collection. The workshop provides all thematic issue contributors an opportunity for debate and an initial round of feedback on the papers. Accommodation and catering during the event will be covered for accepted contributors. There is limited travel support for junior scholars.

The deadline for submitting the revised paper for double blind peer-review is December 1, 2018.

The planned publication date of this special collection of Social Media + Society is in the second half of 2019