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…

Picking at the “alternative media ecosystem”

Two things on how various intersecting discourses are coming at “fake news’…  I find it interesting to see and hear how different folks are attempting to make sense of an apparent phenomenon, it’s a little like watching Foucault’s ‘discursive formation’ in action…

First, via Adrian J Ivakhiv:

Parsing the “alternative media ecosystem”

An interesting forthcoming article by University of Washington researcher Kate Starbird examines the “alternative media ecosystem” by focusing on the production of the kinds of narratives that are fairly exclusive to the “alternative,” as opposed to mainstream, “media ecosystem.” Specifically, the piece analyzes conspiratorial narratives, found on Twitter and connected web sites, that follow terrorist incidents (including the 2013 Boston Marathon Bombings and the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17) and several mass shooting events.

“For each event,” Starbird writes, “rumors claimed the event had been perpetrated by someone other than the official suspects—that it was instead either a staged event performed by “crisis actors” or a “false flag” orchestrated by someone else.” (For more, see the Seattle Times and Starbird’s own summaries of the research.)

From Starbird’s scholarly article:

“After several rounds of iterative analysis to identify commonalities and distinctions across clusters of accounts, we identified three prominent political agendas: U.S. Alt Right, U.S. Alt-Left, and International Anti-Globalist.”

Second, via the ‘Team Human’ podcast, hosted by Douglas Rushkoff, Caroline Jack on ‘propaganda’:

What’s Propaganda Got To Do With It?

If “propaganda” is a useful as a media epithet because it expresses concerns about media persuasion and power, then we must allow that a variety of actors, not just states or would-be states, can influence the television networks, newspapers of record, and leading online news sources.

Our understanding of media power (and of what it means to call something propaganda) must make room for a variety of potential collective and individual influences. This includes corporations, interest groups, activist groups, and other traditional collectives; it should also include the new forms of individual and collective presence that digital communications facilitate. This includes state-sponsored online actors and ad-hoc user collectives.

“Control, Resistance, and the ‘Data University’: Towards a Third Wave Critique”

A group of academics at Newcastle, collectivised under the moniker “the Analogue University” offer an Alex Galloway-like critique of “The Data University” over on the Antipode blog. An interesting read…

In this short intervention, we want to explore the possibilities for a third wave of critique related to the changing nature of academia. More specifically, we argue that we are now witnessing the emergence of the “Data University” where the initial emphasis on the primacy of data collection for auditing and measuring academic work has shifted to data coding itself as the new exchange value at work and productive of new subjectivities and freedoms. This third wave critique requires drawing a schematic line that now takes us beyond the intensification of neo-liberalisation, the internalisation of market values and associated affective structures of feeling to understanding our new digital and big data world. Influenced by Deleuze’s (1992) work on new societies of control, we argue that the genesis of the “Data University” lies in our active desire for data and its potential to mediate human relations and modulate our freedoms. This is absolutely central to our schematic for a third wave of critique: compared to older disciplinary societies like the school or prison institution (see below), today individuals both desire and are controlled through the active generation of proliferating data streams.

Read the full article.

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.’

FOREST HANDFORD

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.

Containers and global capitalism (podcast)

Via Deterritorial Investigations Unit.

Containers is an 8-part audio documentary about how global trade has transformed the economy and ourselves. Host and correspondent Alexis Madrigal leads you through the world of ships and sailors, technology and tugboats, warehouses and cranes. At a time when Donald Trump is threatening to toss out the global economic order, Containers provides an illuminating, deep, and weird look at how capitalism actually works now.

 

Reblog> Workshop on Security and the Political Turn in the Philosophy of Technologies

An interesting event blogged by Peter-Paul Verbeek:

Workshop ‘Security and the Political Turn in the Philosophy of Technologies’, University of Twente | DesignLab, March 10 2017. How to understand the political significance of things? And how to deal with the politics of technology in a responsible way? Ever since Langdon Winner claimed in the early 1980s that “artifacts have politics”, these questions have been puzzling philosophers and ethicists of technology. Technologies are not just instruments for humans to do politics but actively shape politics themselves. In this workshop we will explore various dimensions of this political role of technologies, especially with regards to security, citizenship in a technological world, and the role of social media and ‘fake news’ in contemporary democracy.

Speakers include:

  • Babette Babich (Fordham)
  • Robin James (UNCC),
  • Laura Fichtner (TUD)
  • Wolter Pieters (TUD)
  • Melis Bas (UT)
  • Jonne Hoek (UT)
  • Philip Brey (UT)
  • Nolen Gertz (UT)
  • Michael Nagenborg (UT)
  • Peter-Paul Verbeek (UT)

The workshop is sponsored by the 4TU.Ethics working group on “Risk, Safety, and Security.”

“Irreconcilable differences?” Sharlene Mollett’s Gender, Place and Culture Jan Monk Distinguished Annual Lecture

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:

Irreconcilable differences? A postcolonial intersectional reading of gender, development and Human Rights in Latin America

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 lessthanhuman. 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.