More tales of the automative imaginary

Here’s some links that further sketch out some of what I’ve been thinking about as an ‘automative imaginary’. I’ve offered links with a bit of brief commentary at the bottom…

Evidence That Robots Are Winning the Race for American Jobs – in the NYT, pointing to research undertaken by two economists, Acemoglu and Restrepo, published by the (American) National Bureau of Economic ResearchRobots and Jobs: Evidence from US Labor Markets (to which I have no access), with a commentary on the Centre for Economic Policy Research‘s Vox site. What is curious for me here is how one can evaluate the method of the researchers and what the assumptions they make say about how we (are invited to) understand automation. There’s some interesting geography in there too! E.g. see the choropleth map of “exogenous exposure to robots” below

How will the rise of automation and AI affect the workforce and economy moving forward? – Francis Fukuyama offers his answer to how automation and AI (interesting easy slip between those as almost a form of equivalence, which is open to significant debate/critique) may or may not “affect” the economy and, in particular, jobs – in the US.

It’s interesting how much of what we are offered in terms of a rationale for automation is a fairly simplistic robots replace workers sort of story. In this regard, it’s worth remembering what the MacDonalds CEO Ed Rensi flippantly observed as a canonical example (documented in this post on Fusion):

former McDonald’s CEO Ed Rensi made news by going on Fox Business and declaring that ongoing protests in the campaign for a $15 minimum wage were encouraging the automation of fast food jobs. The segment goes on for seven minutes, but here’s the meat of it:

I was at the National Restaurant Show yesterday and if you look at the robotic devices that are coming into the restaurant industry — it’s cheaper to buy a $35,000 robotic arm than it is to hire an employee who’s inefficient making $15 an hour bagging French fries — it’s nonsense and it’s very destructive and it’s inflationary and it’s going to cause a job loss across this country like you’re not going to believe

Nevertheless, other economists will tell you that processes of automation have, historically, created new kinds of jobs as they apparently ‘destroy’ others. For example, Deloitte, in their report “Technology and People: The great job creating machine“, suggest that while manual labour and routine jobs have been significantly automated since 1992, there has been an even larger growth in ‘care’ (and service) and ‘cognitive’ work in the UK labour market. So you see fewer people in manufacturing but more analysts, baristas and carers.

Of course, to see it as whole “jobs” that are being automated is somewhat misleading – another aspect of the automative imaginary that owes more to the depiction of automation in 1950/60s cartoons than in the actually existing forms of automation. As many commentators point out, it’s parts of jobs or tasks that become automated, which results in a need to reorganise that work. As the management consultants McKinsey point out in a report in 2016:

currently demonstrated technologies could automate 45 percent of the activities people are paid to perform and that about 60 percent of all occupations could see 30 percent or more of their constituent activities automated, again with technologies available today

What we tend to focus on is the automation full stop, not that it isn’t all of a job and may not result in an easy equivalence of “robot in = worker out”. We imagine the robots doing it all, when, in many cases, the use of robots (when they’re actually economically viable – they have a huge initial set-up cost) require a reorganisation of systems such that the work looks different.

Another illustration of this comes from the excellent Containers podcast by Alexis Madrigal. In the final episode, Madrigal talks to Karen Levy of Cornell  about the forms automation could take in relation to truck driving (upon which Uber clearly has its sights set). Of course, again, it’s not as simple as: automate the lorries, do-away with jobs. It’s more like the process of containerisation that Madrigal is exploring – automation is as much about reorganising systems of work / labour as it is about ‘replacing’ labour. So, in the example of picking in warehouses – you might get a Kiva or Fetch/Freight robot to do the donkey work of warehousing, with the worker performing the more sophisticated movements. This is not a future of people-less spaces but rather robots following people around or being tasked in order to support the worker, the argument being this leads to greater productivity. In fact, in the eighth episode of Containers, the CEO of Fetch Robotics justifies her company’s tech by saying that, in the US, there are over 600k jobs going unfilled in warehousing and manufacturing because people don’t want to do them, with a turnover rate of those who do sign-up for such work at around 25% (I don’t know the basis or veracity of those numbers – would like to though!). Again, if true, such figures are another aspect of the expectations of what work involves and how it may be performed.

So, it seems to me we need to talk about work not simply elide it by (somewhat hysterically) referring to ‘automation’ and ‘robots’. This is something I hope to research and write more about, if I ever get the time…

A Universe Explodes. A Blockchain book/novel

Thanks to Max Dovey for the tip on this…

This seems interesting as a sort of provocation about what Blockchain says/asks about ownership perhaps, although I’m not overly convinced by the gimmick of changing words such that the readers unravel, or “explode” the book… I wonder whether The Raw Shark Texts  or These Pages Fall Like Ash might be a deeper or maybe I mean more nuanced take on such things… however, I haven’t explored this enough yet and it’s good to see Google doing something like this (I think?!)

Here’s a snip from googler tea uglow’s medium post about this…

It’s a book. On your phone. Well, on the internet. Anyone can read it. It’s 20 pages long. Each page has 128 words, and there are 100 of the ‘books’ that can be ‘owned’ . And no way to see a book that isn’t one of those 100. Each book is unique, with personal dedications, and an accumulation of owners, (not to mention a decreasing number of words) as it is passed on. So it is both a book and an cumulative expression of the erosion of the self and of being rewritten and misunderstood. That is echoed in the narrative: the story is fluid, the transition confusing, the purpose unclear. The book gradually falls apart in more ways than one. It is also kinda geeky.

Interesting papers: “The Taking Economy” & “The Myth of the Sharing Economy”

These look interesting…

Via Frank Pasquale:

The Taking Economy: Uber, Information, and Power

Ryan Calo
University of Washington – School of Law; Stanford University – Law School; Yale Law School

Alex Rosenblat
Data & Society Research Institute

Abstract
Sharing economy firms such as Uber and Airbnb facilitate trusted transactions between strangers on digital platforms. This creates economic and other value and raises a set of concerns around racial bias, safety, and fairness to competitors and workers that legal scholarship has begun to address. Missing from the literature, however, is a fundamental critique of the sharing economy grounded in asymmetries of information and power. This Article, coauthored by a law professor and a technology ethnographer who studies the ride-hailing community, furnishes such a critique and indicates a path toward a meaningful response.

Via Tom Slee:

The Myth of the Sharing Economy and Its Implications for Regulating Innovation

Abbey Stemler
Indiana University – Kelley School of Business – Department of Business Law

Abstract
A deflated air mattress rests in the corner of Airbnb’s world headquarters. It symbolizes how Airbnb allows regular, local people to earn extra income by renting out space in their homes. Yet, this symbolism fails to represent what the company has become—a unicorn receiving most of its revenue from professionals with full-time listings. That poorly folded wad of plastic exemplifies the Myth of the Sharing Economy, which has been consistently used to subvert regulation.
The Myth convinces people that the sharing economy is comprised of self-regulating platforms, which allow microentrepreneurs to utilize their excess capacity in an altruistic manner. However, the sharing economy is actually comprised of companies driven as much by market forces and failures as any taxicab company or hotel chain. The Myth possesses a simple and seductive appeal. It uses the familiar idea of sharing to make the claim that platforms are unique and should be subject to new and different regulation or no regulation at all. This Myth not only harms platform users, the environment, and the culture and diversity of communities, it has helped sharing economy platforms become powerful influencers in Silicon Valley, state legislatures, and beyond. 
While much has been written the benefits of the sharing economy and how to regulate it, this Article is the first to critique the sharing economy by exploring the intersection between narrative and regulation. It also distills lessons for regulating future innovations and demonstrates the importance of questioning rhetoric and reality in order to achieve public policy goals.

Brave new-old world – gig economy as scientific management

They’re gonna be disrupted, yeah! Because your lives are being disrupted, yeah! This is the money you need to live!

An interesting article in the FT: “When your boss is an algorithm“, in which (if you ignore the sort of anthropomorphism of “the algorithm” and its apparently supreme agency) the author,  , draws out the similarity between the claims of efficiency etc. made for ‘gig economy’ -type work platforms, such as Uber and Deliveroo, are very similar to Taylorism:

Algorithmic management” might sound like the future but it has uncanny echoes from the past. A hundred years ago, a new theory called “scientific management” swept through the factories of America. It was the brainchild of Frederick W Taylor … Taylor wanted to replace this “rule of thumb” approach with “the establishment of many rules, laws and formulae which replace the judgment of the individual workman”. To that end, he sent managers with stopwatches and notebooks on to the shop floor. They observed, timed and recorded every stage of every job, and determined the most efficient way that each one should be done. “Perhaps the most prominent single element in modern scientific management is the task idea,” Taylor wrote in his 1911 book The Principles of Scientific Management. “This task specifies not only what is to be done but how it is to be done and the exact time allowed for doing it.”

Exemplified by the following excerpt articulating the experience of a Deliveroo driver, Kyaw, which is, in turn, of course similar to the kinds of working conditions of other delivery drivers and Amazon warehouse pickers (as has been covered widely in the press)…

Kyaw whips out his phone. The app expects him to respond to new orders within 30 seconds. The screen shows a map and address for the local Carluccio’s, an Italian restaurant chain. A swipe bar says “Accept delivery”. That is the only option. The algorithm will not tell him the delivery address until he has picked up the food from Carluccio’s. Deliveroo couriers are assigned fairly small geographic areas but Kyaw says sometimes the delivery address is way outside his allocated zone. You can only decline an order by phoning the driver support line. “They say, ‘No, you have to do it, you already collected the food.’ If you want to return the food to the restaurant they mark it as a driver refusal — that’s bad.”

Gary Hall > Ten Ways To Affirmatively Disrupt The Sharing Economy ♯3: Become a Microdatapreneur

Interesting from Gary Hall… lots to think through politically here, as with blockchain-like, more-or-less libertarian, strategies for a new “new economy” (as per the Post-Fordists)…  and possibly relevant to the recent interest in “digital” labour in geography…

part of a series of posts in which I provide ten proposals as to how to affirmatively disrupt ubercapitalism and the corporate sharing economy. Together these posts constitute the draft of a text provisionally titled Data Commonism, designed to follow on from my recently published short book, The Uberfication of the University. If the latter provides a dystopian sense of what is lying in store for many us over the course of the next few years, Data Commonism is more optimistic in that it shows what we can do about it. 

[We can disrupt the sharing economy by] by working toward the kind of “universal micropayment system” Jaron Lanier envisages in Who Owns The Future: “If observation of you yields data that makes it easier for… a political campaign to target voters with its message, then you ought to be owed money for the use of that valuable data.” In this system we would be paid for the data we generate if it turns out to be valuable. Our relationship with the platforms of the for-profit sharing economy would thus take the form of a “two-way” financial transaction in which we all “benefit, concretely, with real money,” rather than just a few San Francisco-based entrepreneurs and investors.

A universal micropayment system may result in some degree of financial redistribution. But while it provides a means of reuniting data with those users who produce it […] there is not really all that much we can do with our own small amounts of data. How much leverage would we have when it comes to negotiating a price for it, bearing in mind most of us will have to rely on these companies to determine for us the extent to which our data […] has actually contributed to a political campaign aimed at targeting voters, to stay with Lanier’s example?

for Clare Birchall, it is not at all “clear that data belongs to us in the first place in order for it then to be given or taken”–or monetized, in this case. Instead, “we are within a dynamic sharing assemblage: always already sharing data with human or non-human agents.” Birchall introduces the term “shareveillance” to describe the “condition of consuming shared data and producing data to be shared in ways that shape” what she refers to as an “an ascendant shareveillant subjectivity.” This is a “subject who is at once surveillant (veiller ‘to watch’ is from the Latin vigilare, from vigil, ‘watchful’) and surveilled. To phrase it with a slightly different emphasis: the subject of shareveillance is one who simultaneously works with data and on whom the data works.”

CFP> Fear and Loathing of the Online Self, Rome, May 22-23, 2017

Via Institute of Network Cultures… looks interesting… be good to see a wider variety of folks ‘participating’…

Fear and Loathing of the Online Self–A Savage Journey into the Heart of Digital Cultures

Call for Participation
Conference, Rome, May 22-23, 2017
http://networkcultures.org/online-self/

We would like to invite artists and researchers to submit proposals to join this event hosted by  John Cabot University and Universita degli Studi RomaTre in Rome, and organized in collaboration with the Institute of Network Cultures, Amsterdam.

The conference aims at exploring the state of the online self by raising questions about its status as a focal point of contemporary power/networks. Is the online self merely a product of software predictability and viral marketing? Is there any space left for self-determination? Or should we search elsewhere for new forms resistance by changing our political categories and perspectives? Which contradictions are at play? How and where can we locate the spaces of performativity of the online self?

Critical political-economic readings of platform capitalism do not explain nor grasp new forms of (visual) online subjectivity. There is a growing gap between the obsessive quest for measurability, big data and algorithmic regimes (such as AI/bots),and critical investigations of an emerging variety of compulsive forms taken by the online self. We need to fill this gap and bring them back together. If a humanities approach of Internet studies nurtured by artistic and activist practices aims to survive the ‘big data’ onslaught from the social sciences, then it is vital to ask what the citizen-as-user wants. To portray the population as (innocent or guilty) victims of the data monopolies is, politically speaking, a dead-end street.

The cynical condition rules: we know we’re under surveillance, yet we continue to click, like, love and share ourselves online as usual. We are told by concerned experts and libertarians that our privacy “matters” and we want to believe it; yet it silently confers a guilty stigma upon another vital need, to engage socially and culturally with others. While some preach the offline escape as a way out, most of us are so deeply invested in the everyday social media life that it is inconceivable for most of us to  leave Facebook and the like. And this not only out of desire but necessity: networking and self-sharing has become imperative for succesfully managing the double binds of the immaterial labour economy. Instead, we’d rather deal with peculiar pathologies, such as addiction, depression and solitude generated by hyper-connection and lack of connections.

Abstracts and proposals are welcome to contribute to the following sections:

1. ONLINE SUBJECTIVITY THEORY

How much free room do we have to design new identities? What aesthetic and philosophic paths and patterns does meme distribution hint at? What is the role of theory and criticism, if any, in the ever changing yet endless production of the latest user affordances, from dating sites, Tinder swipes and Snapchat lenses, to Pokemon-Go? Can we still attempt to design new modes of subjectivity, or has our role withdrawn to a mere Cassandra-like gloom and doom prediction of digital catastrophes, while start-ups (read: future monopolies) have all taken over the cool business of designing and shaping the online self?

2. BEHIND AND BEYOND SELFIES

It is easy to diagnose the selfie as a symptom of a growing narcissism of our daily digital obsessions. But how do we get beyond the predictable split between the politically correct assessment of empowerment (of young girls) against the nihilist reading of self-promotion and despair? Does criticism of today’s photography of the everyday life always have to end up giving medical prescriptions and recipes of wellbeing? What could a materialist reading of large databases and facial recognition techniques (including protection) that goes beyond media archaeology (the historical approach) and the ever-changing pop gestures involve and say? Can we still talk about the liberation of the self in the age of digital self-generation of the images?

3. ARTISTIC PRACTICES OF THE ONLINE SELF

Artists play an important role in the anticipation, and critique, of new modes of the self. What role does the artistic imagination play beyond the creative industries paradigm? How can artistic and creative avant garde practices help disrupt the trite quantitative approach and the dogma of the algorithm in defining modes and moods of the onlife self? What separates a (properly) artistic imagination and the aesthetic imagination of the online curators of selfie-constructed personas and are contemporary critical paradigms merely reproducing an understanding of online practices that are aligned with the requirements of corporation?

4. POLITICS AND AESTHETICS OF MASK DESIGN

Masks and selfies should not be seen as opposites as they both represent different modes (and moods) of being of the self. Masks create spaces of performance; they are playful and seductive (or scary) forms of self-representation that ultimately do not protect us against the computational repression of the security apparatus. What are the lessons learned from the Anonymous movement? We should come to a new social contract between the individuals, groups and the cybernetic machine. In the meanwhile, how can we make sure to protect us, and what premises are hidden in the numerous crypto-design projects that circulate?

Confirmed speakers: Wendy Chun, Ana Peraica, Jodi Dean, Marco Deseriis, Gabriella Coleman, Daniel de Zeeuw, Rebecca Stein, Vito Campanelli, Franco Berardi.

Editorial Team: Donatella Della Ratta (John Cabot University), Geert Lovink (Institute of Network Cultures/HvA), Teresa Numerico (Universita degli Studi RomaTre), Peter Sarram (John Cabot University).

Please send your proposal (max 500 words in word/pdf format), a short bio and any other material that could support your idea visually  (artwork, film links, etc) to selfieconference@johncabot.edu.  Deadline: March 1, 2017.

Reblog> Social Justice in an Age of Datafication: Launch of the Data Justice Lab

Via The Data Justice Lab.

Social Justice in an Age of Datafication: Launch of the Data Justice Lab

The Data Justice Lab will be officially launched on Friday, 17 March 2017. Join us for the launch event at Cardiff University’s School of Journalism, Media and Cultural Studies (JOMEC) at 4pm. Three international speakers will discuss the challenges of data justice.

The event is free but requires pre-booking at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/social-justice-in-an-age-of-datafication-launching-the-data-justice-lab-tickets-31849002223

Data Justice Lab — Launch Event — Friday 17 March 4pm — Cardiff University

Our financial transactions, communications, movements, relationships, and interactions with government and corporations all increasingly generate data that are used to profile and sort groups and individuals. These processes can affect both individuals as well as entire communities that may be denied services and access to opportunities, or wrongfully targeted and exploited. In short, they impact on our ability to participate in society. The emergence of this data paradigm therefore introduces a particular set of power dynamics requiring investigation and critique.

The Data Justice Lab is a new space for research and collaboration at Cardiff University that has been established to examine the relationship between datafication and social justice. With this launch event, we ask: What does social justice mean in age of datafication? How are data-driven processes impacting on certain communities? In what way does big data change our understanding of governance and politics? And what can we do about it?

We invite you to come and participate in this important discussion. We will be joined by the following keynote speakers:

Virginia Eubanks (New America), Malavika Jayaram (Digital Asia Hub), and Steven Renderos (Center for Media Justice).

Virginia Eubanks is the author of Digital Dead End: Fighting for Social Justice in the Information Age (MIT Press, 2011) and co-editor, with Alethia Jones, of Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around: Forty Years of Movement Building with Barbara Smith (SUNY Press, 2014). She is also the cofounder of Our Knowledge, Our Power (OKOP), a grassroots economic justice and welfare rights organization. Professor Eubanks is currently working on her third book, Digital Poorhouse, for St. Martin’s Press. In it, she examines how new data-driven systems regulate and discipline the poor in the United States. She is a Fellow at New America, a Washington, D.C. think tank and the recipient of a three-year research grant from the Digital Trust Foundation (with Seeta Peña Gangadharan and Joseph Turow) to explore the meaning of digital privacy and data justice in marginalized communities.

Malavika Jayaram is the Executive Director of the Digital Asia Hub in Hong Kong. Previously she was a Fellow at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University, where she focused on privacy, identity, biometrics and data ethics. She worked at law firms in India and the UK, and she was voted one of India’s leading lawyers. She is Adjunct Faculty at Northwestern University and a Fellow with the Centre for Internet & Society, India, and she is on the Advisory Board of the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC).

Steven Renderos is Organizing Director at the Center for Media Justice. With over 10 years of organizing experience Steven has been involved in campaigns to lower the cost of prison phone calls, preserving the Open Internet, and expanding community owned radio stations. Steven previously served as Project Coordinator of the Minnesotano Media Empowerment Project, an initiative focused on improving the quality and quantity of media coverage and representation of Latinos in Minnesota. He currently serves on the boards of Organizing Apprenticeship Project and La Asamblea de Derechos Civiles. Steven (aka DJ Ren) also hosts a show called Radio Pocho at a community radio station and spins at venues in NYC.

The event will be followed by a reception.

Reblog> Free Download: Digital Rights to the City

Via Mark Purcell.

2017-02-06-103004_550x790_scrot

Free Download: Digital Rights to the City

Published Today: Our Digital Rights to the City

Free to download (pdf, epub, mobi): http://meatspacepress.org/

 

‘Our Digital Rights to the City’ is a small collection of articles about digital technology, data and the city. It covers a range of topics relating to the political and economic power of technologies that are now almost inescapable within the urban environment. This includes discussions surrounding security, mapping, real estate, smartphone applications and the broader idea of a ‘right to the city’ in a post-digital world.

The collection is edited by Joe Shaw and Mark Graham and its contributing authors are Jathan Sadowski, Valentina Carraro, Bart Wissink, Desiree Fields, Kurt Iveson, Taylor Shelton, Sophia Drakopoulou and Mark Purcell.

Please follow us @meatspacepress

Join our mailing list at http://meatspacepress.org/

‘Our Digital Rights to the City’ also available free at:

* Free to download (epub, most e-readers): epub

* Free to download (pdf): pdf

* Free to download (mobi, for Kindle): mobi

* Free to read (pdf): Here

Affective capitalism – a theme issue

Via Tony Sampson.

A theme issue of the journal ephemera on ‘affective capitalism‘, which is probably of interest to some folk in geographyland.

Affective capitalism is understood in this special issue as a mode of production where systems of organising production and distribution rely on the capacities of different bodies, human and non-human, to encounter each other. These encounters and different modes of capital that emerge are surrounded by a vast array of technologies of production, capture, valorisation, commodification and transformation. Affective capitalism appeals to our desires, it needs social relationships, and organises and establishes them. The theme issue offers a variety of theoretical approaches to analysing formations of affect in contemporary capitalism. The issue includes ten essays that address ways of capturing affect in different contexts, such as debt, media and popular culture, brain research, humanitarianism, and pedagogy.

See the whole theme issue (incl. open access PDF)