Reblog> Humans and machines at work

A warehouse worker and robot

Via Phoebe Moore. Looks good >>

Humans and Machines coverHumans and machines at work: monitoring, surveillance and automation in contemporary capitalism edited by Phoebe V. Moore, Martin Upchurch and Xanthe Whittaker.
This edited collection is now in production/press (Palgrave, Dynamics of Virtual Work series editors Ursula Huws and Rosalind Gill). This is the results of the symposium I organised for last year’s International Labour Process Conference (ILPC). We are so fortunate to have 9 women and 3 men authors from all over the world including Chinese University Hong Kong, Harvard, WA University St Louis, Milan, Sheffield, Lancaster, King’s College, Greenwich, and Middlesex researchers, two trade unionists from UNI Global Union and Institute for Employment Rights, early career and more advanced contributors.

In the era of the so-called Fourth Industrial Revolution, we increasingly work with machines in both cognitive and manual workplaces. This collection provides a series of accounts of workers’ local experiences that reflect the ubiquity of work’s digitalisation. Precarious gig economy workers ride bikes and drive taxis in China and Britain; domestic workers’ timekeeping and movements are documented; call centre workers in India experience invasive tracking but creative forms of worker subversion are evident; warehouse workers discover that hidden data has been used for layoffs; academic researchers see their labour obscured by a ‘data foam’ that does not benefit us; and journalists suffer the algorithmic curse. These cases are couched in historical accounts of identity and selfhood experiments seen in the Hawthorne experiments and the lineage of automation. This collection will appeal to scholars in the sociology of work and digital labour studies and anyone interested in learning about monitoring and surveillance, automation, the gig economy and quantified self in workplaces.

Table of contents:

Chapter 1: Introduction. Phoebe V. Moore, Martin Upchurch, Xanthe Whittaker

Chapter 2: Digitalisation of work and resistance. Phoebe V. Moore, Pav Akhtar, Martin Upchurch

Chapter 3: Deep automation and the world of work. Martin Upchurch, Phoebe V. Moore

Chapter 4: There is only one thing in life worse than being watched, and that is not being watched: Digital data analytics and the reorganisation of newspaper production. Xanthe Whittaker

Chapter 5: The electronic monitoring of care work – the redefinition of paid working time. Sian Moore and L. J. B. Hayes

Chapter 6: Social recruiting: control and surveillance in a digitised job market. Alessandro Gandini and Ivana Pais

Chapter 7: Close watch of a distant manager:  Multisurveillance by transnational clients in Indian call centres. Winifred R. Poster

Chapter 8: Hawthorne’s renewal: Quantified total self. Rebecca Lemov

Chapter 9: ‘Putting it together, that’s what counts’: Data foam, a Snowball and researcher evaluation. Penny C. S. Andrews

Chapter 10: Technologies of control, communication, and calculation: Taxi drivers’ labour in the platform economy. Julie Yujie Chen

Our friends electric

Another wonderful video from superflux exploring how to think about the kinds of relationships we may or may not have with our ‘smart’ stuff…

Our Friends Electric from Superflux on Vimeo.
Our Friends Electric is a short film by Superflux about voice-enabled AI assistants who ask too many questions, swear & recite Marxist texts.

The film was commissioned by Mozilla’s Open IoT Studio. The devices in the film are made Loraine Clarke and Martin Skelly from Mozilla’s Open IoT Studio and the University of Dundee.

For more information about the project visit: http://superflux.in/index.php/work/friends-electric/#

Getting in ‘the zone’: Luxury & Paranoia, Access & Exclusion – Capital and Public Space

Uber surge pricing in LA

Another interesting ‘long form’ essay on the Institute of Network Cultures site. This piece by Anastasia Kubrak and Sander Manse directly addresses some contemporary themes in geographyland – access, ‘digital’-ness, exclusion, ‘rights to the city’, technology & urbanism and ‘verticality’. The piece turns around an exploration of the idea of a ‘zone’ – ‘urban zoning’, ‘special economic zones’, ‘export processing zones’, ‘free economic/enterprise zones’, ‘no-go zones’. Some of this, of course, covers familiar ground for geographers but its interesting to see the argument play out. It seems to resonate, for example, with Matt Wilson’s book New Lines

Here’s some blockquoted bits (all links are in the original).

Luxury & Paranoia, Access & Exclusion On Capital and Public Space

We get into an Uber car, and the driver passes by the Kremlin walls, guided by GPS. At the end of the ride, the bill turns out to be three times as expensive than usual. What is the matter? We check the route, and the screen shows that we travelled to an airport outside of Moscow. Impossible. We look again: the moment we approached the Kremlin, our location automatically jumped to Vnukovo. As we learned later, this was caused by a GPS fence set up to confuse and disorient aerial sensors, preventing unwanted drone flyovers.

How can we benefit as citizens from the increase in sensing technologies, remote data-crunching algorithms, leaching geolocation trackers and parasite mapping interfaces? Can the imposed verticality of platform capitalism by some means enrich the surface of the city, and not just exploit it? Maybe our cities deserve a truly augmented reality – reality in which value generated within urban space actually benefits its inhabitants, and is therefore ‘augmented’ in the sense of increased or made greater. Is it possible to consider the extension of zoning not only as an issue, but also as a solution, a way to create room for fairer, more social alternatives? Can we imagine the sprawling of augmented zones today, still of accidental nature, being utilized or artificially designed for purposes other than serving capital?

Gated urban enclaves also proliferate within our ‘normal’ cities, perforating through the existing social fabric. Privatization of urban landscape affects our spatial rights, such as simply the right of passage: luxury stores and guarded residential areas already deny access to the poor and marginalized. But how do these acts of exclusion happen in cities dominated by the logic of platform capitalism? What happens when more tools become available to scan, analyze and reject citizens on the basis of their citizenship or credit score? Accurate user profiles come in handy when security is automated in urban space: surveillance induced by smart technologies, from electronic checkpoints to geofencing, can amplify more exclusion.

This tendency becomes clearly visible with Facebook being able to allow for indirect urban discrimination through targeted advertising. This is triggered by Facebook’s ability to exclude entire social groups from seeing certain ads based on their user profile, so that upscale housing-related ads might be hidden from them, making it harder for them to leave poorer neighborhoods. Meanwhile Uber is charging customers based on the prediction of their wealth, varying prices for rides between richer and poorer areas. This speculation on value enabled by the aggregation of massive amounts of data crystallizes new forms of information inequality in which platforms observe users through a one-way mirror.

If platform economies take the city as a hostage, governmental bodies of the city can seek how to counter privatization on material grounds. The notorious Kremlin’s GPS spoofing fence sends false coordinates to any navigational app within the city center, thereby also disrupting the operation of Uber and Google Maps. Such gaps on the map, blank spaces are usually precoded in spatial software by platforms, and can expel certain technologies from a geographical site, leaving no room for negotiation. Following the example of Free Economic Zones, democratic bodies could gain control over the city again by artificially constructing such spaces of exception. Imagine rigorous cases of hard-line zoning such as geofenced Uber-free Zones, concealed neighborhoods on Airbnb, areas secured from data-mining or user-profile-extraction.

Vertical zoning can alter the very way in which capital manifests itself. TheBristol pound is an example of city-scale local currency, created specifically to keep added value in circulation within one city. It is accepted by an impressive number of local businesses and for paying monthly wages and taxes. Though the Bristol Pound still circulates in paper, today we can witness a global sprawl of blockchain based community currencies, landing within big cities or even limited to neighborhoods. Remarkably, Colu Local Digital Wallet can be used in Liverpool, the East London area, Tel Aviv and Haifa – areas with a booming tech landscape or strong sense of community.

Reblog> Addiction, excess and artists: strategies of resistance

Via Tony Sampson. Looks like a great event from Furtherfield >>

Addiction, excess and artists: strategies of resistance

Are We All Addicts Now? Symposium and Book Launch.

Are we all addicts now?Date: Tuesday 7th November, 6.30 – 9pm

Venue: Central St Martins, University of the Arts London, 1 Granary Square, London, N1C 4AA

Tickets for the event are now available so please feel free to share this info.

http://www.furtherfield.org/programmes/event/are-we-all-addicts-now-symposium-and-book-launch

Here’s the blurb for the panel I’ll be talking on

Addiction, excess and artists: strategies of resistance

Techniques such as neuro-marketing are used online to keep users on device, driving endless circulation and drawing profits from every click. While many artists have celebrated overstimulation and digital excess, others incorporate strategies of resistance into their practice. In a hyper digital world, what are the possibilities for defying techniques such as neuro-marketing, nudging and gamification and what role can artists play in these acts of resistance? 

Reader in Digital Culture Tony D. Sampson explores neuro-marketing and digital addiction 

Artists Katriona Beales and Fiona MacDonald : Feral Practice discuss strategies of resistance from the AWAAN exhibition

Artist and writer Emily Rosamond on reputation addiction and how to resist it 

‘Robotism’ and the agency of ‘automated’ workers

Charlie Chaplin in Modern Times

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.

Read the full comment.

Chinese bitcoin mining in pictures

From ChinaFile – photos from Photographer Liu Xingzhe documenting Bitcoin ‘mines’ in China.

Employees use their phones at the Bitcoin mine, September 26, 2016. The mine has 550 “mining machines” running continuously. They solve complicated mathematical problems for which they are rewarded with Bitcoins. Seven employees work in shifts monitoring the machines to keep the mine running 24 hours a day.

Photographer Liu Xingzhe traveled to Sichuan’s Ngawa (Aba) Tibetan and Qiang Autonomous Prefecture, some 175 miles from the provincial capital of Chengdu, to explore not only the operations of these [Bitcoin] mines, but also the lives of the “miners” who spend their days tending to whirring legions of machines. He also traveled to Shenzhen to see the factories where the world’s finest Bitcoin mining machinery is engineered and produced.

See all of Lio Xingzhe’s photos.

“I’m so excited to join a botnet”

Glitched image of a sous-vide machine

From NY magazine:

I didn’t just buy a sous-vide circulator, I also bought what could very likely turn into a new zombie member of a botnet nobody knows about yet. (A botnet, to refresh your memory, is a group of many disparate internet-enabled computers whose security has been remotely compromised, enabling hackers to network them together and use their combined power for nefarious purposes.)

I do not actually know that my sous-vide circulator will be hacked remotely in order to power a Low Orbit Ion Cannon (popular software for launching a distributed denial-of-service attack used to take websites off the internet temporarily), but if it did happen, I would not be surprised. Oftentimes, the computers — usually very primitive computers of the kind found in security cameras, smart-home light bulbs, and cooking appliances — function normally while these processes run in the background. Perhaps my precision cooker will be attacking a major DNS server while I poach a perfect egg. Or maybe it will help take down a dissident forum as I prepare a cut of steak for the grill. The possibilities are endless.

Reblog> Angela Walch on the misunderstandings of blockchain technology

Another excellent, recent, episode of John Danaher’s podcast. In a wide-ranging discussion of blockchain technologies with Angela Walch there’s lots of really useful explorations of some of the confusing (to me anyway) aspects of what is meant by ‘blockchain’.

Episode #28 – Walch on the Misunderstandings of Blockchain Technology

In this episode I am joined by Angela Walch. Angela is an Associate Professor at St. Mary’s University School of Law. Her research focuses on money and the law, blockchain technologies, governance of emerging technologies and financial stability. She is a Research Fellow of the Centre for Blockchain Technologies of University College London. Angela was nominated for “Blockchain Person of the Year” for 2016 by Crypto Coins News for her work on the governance of blockchain technologies. She joins me for a conversation about the misleading terms used to describe blockchain technologies.

You can download the episode here. You can also subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher.

Show Notes

  • 0:00 – Introduction
  • 2:06 – What is a blockchain?
  • 6:15 – Is the blockchain distributed or shared?
  • 7:57 – What’s the difference between a public and private blockchain?
  • 11:20 – What’s the relationship between blockchains and currencies?
  • 18:43 – What is miner? What’s the difference between a full node and a partial node?
  • 22:25 – Why is there so much confusion associated with blockchains?
  • 29:50 – Should we regulate blockchain technologies?
  • 36:00 – The problems of inconsistency and perverse innovation
  • 41:40 – Why blockchains are not ‘immutable’
  • 58:04 – Why blockchains are not ‘trustless’
  • 1:00:00 – Definitional problems in practice
  • 1:02:37 – What is to be done about the problem?

Relevant Links

Theme issue: Sharing Economies? Theories, practices and impacts

Deliveroo cyclists

Interesting theme issue from July in the Cambridge Journal of Regions, Economy & Society” entitled “Sharing Economies? Theories, practices and impacts”.

See the full Table of Contents.

Here’s a snippet from the editorial statement about the issue:

The ten articles that comprise this issue collectively open up significant elements of sharing economies to greater academic reflection and critique. Substantively, they draw on a range of theories, territories and mechanisms to explore sharing economies from across different disciplinary perspectives. Davies, Donald, Gray and Hayes-Knox argue that five key issues emerge: (i) The etymology of sharing and sharing economies; (ii) The differentiated geographies to which sharing economies contribute; (iii) What it means to labour, work and be employed in sharing economies; (iv) The role of the state and others in governing, regulating and shaping the organisation and practice of sharing economies; and (v) the impacts of sharing economies.