This week → Rebecca Solnit: Why climate despair is a luxury ⊗ AI shouldn’t compete with workers—it should supercharge them ⊗ The exploited labor behind Artificial Intelligence ⊗ Oio’s hybrid team of humans and machines ⊗ The Great Levelling
Last week I apologised for having started with dystopia-themed topics for two weeks straight, so this week I’m bringing some top level help on the other side, with the great Rebecca Solnit on hope and the luxury we can’t afford; climate despair. Giving multiple examples from her own activism, the resilience and accomplishments of indigenous people and various climate activists, Solnit shows that hope is not naiveté, that important change can come from situations that seemed hopeless, that the prophets of doom are taking the easy and lazy way out, and that “we must come to terms with [uncertainty], because it is the essential nature of the future.” I am aware of often being on the wrong side of this hope v despair duality, so see the sharing of this article as a great read, advice to follow, and a note to self.
If you do not take the long view, you cannot see how campaigns build, how beliefs change, how what was once thought impossible or outlandish comes to be the status quo, and how the last half-century has been an extraordinary period of change for society, beliefs and values. Today may seem the same as yesterday, but this decade is profoundly different from the last. […]
Perhaps the astonishing changes of the past equip us to imagine that more lie ahead, and not to confuse the inability to imagine a future with the impossibility of having one. […]
To prophesy doom is to proclaim your own oracular powers. To take a cynical stance is to strive to seem worldly, to position yourself as someone who can’t be fooled – though cynicism is often foolish about what is possible and how the world works. […]
What motivates us to act is a sense of possibility within uncertainty – that the outcome is not yet fully determined and our actions may matter in shaping it. This is all that hope is, and we are all teeming with it, all the time, in small ways. […]
If we can recognise that we don’t know what will happen, that the future does not yet exist but is being made in the present, then we can be moved to participate in making that future.
Clive Thompson for WIRED, exploring Erik Brynjolfsson’s argument that the Turing Test and copying humans was the wrong goal, it should have been about augmentation all along. You can see the augmentation and centaurs tags on Sentiers for a lot more.
I’m sharing it here because it’s a good piece but especially because when I’ve written about centaurs it has most often been as a goal for how we use AI but centered on setting the level of expectations. The interesting point here is that augmentation is so different to replacement, that it needs to be considered from the beginning, you’re optimizing for something else, not just lowering expectations. It’s not ‘can AI replace one of my tasks at a basic level’ but rather ‘what am I not doing that an AI could bring to my work/art/science?’
Automation has made companies more productive, but the productivity gains go to the owners of firms, not to workers. This dynamic, Brynjolfsson argues, is “the single biggest explanation” for why wages have mostly stagnated over the past few decades while the ranks of millionaires and billionaires have bulged. […]
What I’m hoping for is AI as this sort of ultimate tool that’s helping science experts,” he said. He anticipates “a huge flourishing in the next decade,” and says that “we will start seeing Nobel-Prize-winning-level challenges in science being knocked down one after the other. […]
“It’s 100 times easier to look at something existing and think, ‘OK, can we substitute a machine or a human there?’ The really hard thing is, ‘let’s imagine something that never existed before,’” Brynjolfsson says. “But ultimately that second way is where most of the value comes from.”
At NOEMA, Adrienne Williams, Milagros Miceli, and Timnit Gebru argue that “supporting transnational worker organizing efforts should be a priority in discussions pertaining to AI ethics.” Absolutely worth a read with some useful thinking on AI, gig work, exploited labour, international (and inter discipline) solidarity, and strong examples of exploitation in the collection of data.
The most notable aspect of the piece for me is how they show that gig workers (and some employees, like Amazon factory workers) not only provide some of the actual work then labeled as AI, but are also tracked and ‘become data’ to be used in AI models. In other words, they do the work and provide training for their eventual replacement.
London-based venture capital firm MMC Ventures surveyed 2,830 AI startups in the EU and found that 40% of them didn’t use AI in a meaningful way. […]
In addition to labeling data scraped from the internet, some jobs have gig workers supply the data itself, requiring them to upload selfies, pictures of friends and family or images of the objects around them. […]
Like content moderators, these workers both keep the platforms functional and supply data for AI systems that Amazon may one day use to replace them: robots that stock packages in warehouses and self-driving cars that deliver these packages to customers. […]
[W]e advocate for funding of research and public initiatives that aim to uncover issues at the intersection of labor and AI systems. AI ethics researchers should analyze harmful AI systems as both causes and consequences of unjust labor conditions in the industry.
This interview with Simone Rebaudengo and Matteo Loglio aligns exactly with the “competing with AI” piece above. The team at Oio already collaborates with AI on their design projects. Also, the bit about using technology as a material reminds me of the post-digital concept, which I covered way back in 2012 with Edge of Eversion in The Alpine Review.
To test these ideas and attempt to use them in the realm of physical products, we internally developed a process we call Artisanal Intelligence. We co-create or brainstorm with our bots – we train them, feed them with inspiration, they give us inspiration back – to come up with shapes we wouldn’t have thought of otherwise. […]
But more than when we look, it’s about how we look at the future. Both technology and the future are very abstract topics, so how can we make them understandable today?
The Great Levelling → James Bridle quoting James Boyce’s Imperial Mud, on fenland, colonising within England, and the commons. “The draining of the fens in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries was an act of primary accumulation whereby tens of thousands of commoners were deprived of their livelihoods and driven off their lands by the destruction of their wetland homes, which were appropriated for private grazing and grain agriculture.”
Futures, foresights, forecasts & fabulations → A Legendary World Builder on Multiverses, Revolution and the ‘Souls’ of Cities. N.K. Jemisin on The Ezra Klein Show. Haven’t listened yet but really looking forward to it. ⊗ The Futures Bazaar: A Public Imagination Toolkit “Expand horizons, explore new ideas, and transform everyday objects into things from the future.” ⊗ Protopia now: Monika Bielskyte on designing better futures for humanity short talk at the NEXT Conference 🎥.
No.239 Asides ⊕ See Note
- 🤩 🎥 🇸🇪 🇩🇪 It always takes me a lot longer to get to watching conferences vs reading articles and essays, so don’t wait for me and start browsing the video archives of the latest events of The Conference and NEXT.
- 😍 🤖 🏔 🇨🇦 yongwook seong depicts city of banff as extraterrestrial park in new AI-generated series. “The AI-generated project unfolds as the flying saucer Extraterrestrial 006 visits the Canadian city of Banff and terraforms it to develop an eco-tourist park as part of an Earth revitalization project.”
- 🤯 🇺🇸 Absolutely bonkers. A disruptive new entertainment venue: inside the cutting-edge MSG Sphere. “Featuring a 160,000-square-foot display plane that surrounds the audience, including the world’s highest resolution LED screen with over 170 million pixels and a resolution of 16K x 16K, the ambitious $1.865 billion venue is scheduled to open in the second half of 2023.”
- 🚗 🚗 🚗 💩 Parkulator is a mapping tool that indicate areas that are currently being used for car parking. Spoiler: it’s way too much … especially considering it doesn’t show street-side parking. (Via Naive Weekly.)
- 🤔 💼 I’ve disliked Microsoft for a long while now, but I have to admit that they are making a lot of good moves both for business clients and, further down the road, the metaverse. Microsoft App Helps Remote Workers Weigh a Trip to the Office.
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