Place names can be damning evidence of colonial history. On a map of Australia, you’ll see Murderers Flat, Massacre Inlet, Haunted Creek, and Slaughterhouse Gully.
Before the internet was consolidated into centralized information silos, RSS imagined a better way to let users control their online personas.
All this would give the writer great satisfaction. But though feted and exploited by questionable allies, Solzhenitsyn should be remembered for his role as a truth-teller. He risked his all to drive a stake through the heart of Soviet communism and did more than any other single human being to undermine its credibility and bring the Soviet state to its knees.
In this conversation, Fred and Douglas use these works as a jumping off point to a wide range of topics including a provocative discussion on the ways those early utopian visions of technology were subsumed into an ideology of individualism and ultimately, consumerism.
We offer up this map and essay as a way to begin seeing across a wider range of system extractions. The scale required to build artificial intelligence systems is too complex, too obscured by intellectual property law, and too mired in logistical complexity to fully comprehend in the moment. Yet you draw on it every time you issue a simple voice command to a small cylinder in your living room: ‘Alexa, what time is it?”
Put simply: each small moment of convenience – be it answering a question, turning on a light, or playing a song – requires a vast planetary network, fueled by the extraction of non-renewable materials, labor, and data. The scale of resources required is many magnitudes greater than the energy and labor it would take a human to operate a household appliance or flick a switch.
Smartphone batteries, for example, usually have less than eight grams of this material. 5 Each Tesla car needs approximately seven kilograms of lithium for its battery pack. 6
There are deep interconnections between the literal hollowing out of the materials of the earth and biosphere, and the data capture and monetization of human practices of communication and sociality in AI.
Just as the Greek chimera was a mythological animal that was part lion, goat, snake and monster, the Echo user is simultaneously a consumer, a resource, a worker, and a product.
Media technologies should be understood in context of a geological process, from the creation and the transformation processes, to the movement of natural elements from which media are built.
According to research by Amnesty International, during the excavation of cobalt which is also used for lithium batteries of 16 multinational brands, workers are paid the equivalent of one US dollar per day for working in conditions hazardous to life and health, and were often subjected to violence, extortion and intimidation. 16 Amnesty has documented children as young as 7 working in the mines. In contrast, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, at the top of our fractal pyramid, made an average of $275 million a day during the first five months of 2018, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. 17
A child working in a mine in the Congo would need more than 700,000 years of non-stop work to earn the same amount as a single day of Bezos’ income.
The most severe costs of global logistics are born by the atmosphere, the oceanic ecosystem and all it contains, and the lowest paid workers.
In the same way that medieval alchemists hid their research behind cyphers and cryptic symbolism, contemporary processes for using minerals in devices are protected behind NDAs and trade secrets.
Hidden among the thousands of other publicly available patents owned by Amazon, U.S. patent number 9,280,157 represents an extraordinary illustration of worker alienation, a stark moment in the relationship between humans and machines. 37 It depicts a metal cage intended for the worker, equipped with different cybernetic add-ons, that can be moved through a warehouse by the same motorized system that shifts shelves filled with merchandise. Here, the worker becomes a part of a machinic ballet, held upright in a cage which dictates and constrains their movement.
As human agents, we are visible in almost every interaction with technological platforms. We are always being tracked, quantified, analyzed and commodified. But in contrast to user visibility, the precise details about the phases of birth, life and death of networked devices are obscured. With emerging devices like the Echo relying on a centralized AI infrastructure far from view, even more of the detail falls into the shadows.
At every level contemporary technology is deeply rooted in and running on the exploitation of human bodies.
The new gold rush in the context of artificial intelligence is to enclose different fields of human knowing, feeling, and action, in order to capture and privatize those fields.
At this moment in the 21st century, we see a new form of extractivism that is well underway: one that reaches into the furthest corners of the biosphere and the deepest layers of human cognitive and affective being. Many of the assumptions about human life made by machine learning systems are narrow, normative and laden with error. Yet they are inscribing and building those assumptions into a new world, and will increasingly play a role in how opportunities, wealth, and knowledge are distributed.
via Doug Belshaw
The crusades of the 11th to 15th century CE have become one of the defining events of the Middle Ages in both Europe and the Middle East. The campaigns brought significant consequences wherever they occurred but also pushed changes within the states that organised and fought them. Even when the crusades had ended, their influence continued through literature and other cultural means and, resurrected as an idea in more modern times, they continue today to colour international relations.
But the Friday-night tradition was likely chipless until the late-19th century. The general popularity of the potato bloomed late in Europe, and it wasn’t until the late 1800s that the tuber was accepted, due especially to the promotional efforts of a French scientist. Though there are several theories of how the potato came to England—and how it became the “chip” we know and love today—one historical account credits a tripe vendor by the name of Mrs. "Granny" Duce with selling the first fried cut potatoes to the public.
Ten years later, here’s a deep dive into every version of Android.
Facebook is a company that has lost control—not of its business, which has suffered remarkably little from its series of unfortunate events since the 2016 election, but of its consequences. Its old slogan, “Move fast and break things,” was changed a few years ago to the less memorable “Move fast with stable infra.” Around the world, however, Facebook continues to break many things indeed. In Myanmar, hatred whipped up on Facebook Messenger has driven ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya. In India, false child abduction rumors on Facebook’s WhatsApp service have incited mobs to lynch innocent victims. In the Philippines, Turkey, and other receding democracies, gangs of “patriotic trolls” use Facebook to spread disinformation and terrorize opponents. And in the United States, the platform’s advertising tools remain conduits for subterranean propaganda.
by Siva Vaidhyanathan and Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now
by Jaron Lanier, Jacob Weisberg provides a useful history of Facebook. This touches on fake news, data breaches and revolt from within. Weisberg gives some interesting critiques about where to next, including responses such as leaving Facebook and the push for antitrust movement.
via Boing Boing
Baldwin and Coetzee, with their lives and their novels, help to illustrate the unburiedness of national trauma, the ways that collective wounds trickle into the individual psyche, and ultimately just how essential it is to come face to face with history in order to enable true, sustaining reconciliation. It is impossible to divorce ourselves from history; but perhaps our intertwining with its painful legacies keep us committed to altering its course for posterity’s sake