Counter Mapping ⊗ Is the Anthropocene an epoch after all? ⊗ The Internet of creation disappeared ⊗ AI in 2019: A year in review — No.99

This week → Counter Mapping ⊗ Is the Anthropocene an epoch after all? ⊗ The Internet of creation disappeared. Now we have the Internet of surveillance and control ⊗ AI in 2019: A year in review

A year ago → Blistering attack on the ‘data industrial complex’.

The plan was to wait for No.100 until I introduced the new identity and template for Sentiers but I used it Friday morning for a first Dispatch to paid members (you should join!) and didn’t feel like going back to the old one. So here we are, great new look created by Marie-Claude Doyon. I hope you like it, have a look around and reply if you have comments or issues. Thanks!

Counter Mapping

I’ve often included mapping articles here, as well as thinking on territory, compasses, directions instead of plans, etc. This is the same, yet completely different; how a group of people from the A:shiwi (Zuni) tribe in New Mexico are reclaiming their history, their territory, the names they’ve used for centuries, and, in a way, even taking back ownership of their lands through the creation of their own “counter maps,” showing their land as they see and live it. It’s also about living places, taking the time, not simply downloading information. Click through for the pictures of the maps, the short video documentary heading the article, as well as the super short videos throughout the piece.

[M]odern maps hold no memory of what the land was before. Few of us have thought to ask what truths a map may be concealing, or have paused to consider that maps do not tell us where we are from or who we are. Many of us do not know the stories of the land in the places where we live; we have not thought to look for the topography of a myth in the surrounding rivers and hills. Perhaps this is because we have forgotten how to listen to the land around us. […]

[T]his is not how Jim understands the location of his farm. He knows it in relation to the meandering path of the Zuni River, to its distance from the Grand Canyon, its proximity to the spring that provides essential water to his crops, to Salt Lake, to the Zuni Pueblo, to the memory of his grandfather. […]

His painting features snow-capped plateaus, ancient farming villages, buttes, and lakes, all of which rise as soft islands of color from a green and yellow background. Modern roads intersect the canvas as thin black lines. […]

The Zuni maps, says Jim, contain something very important: a different way of looking and knowing. “To assume that people would look at the earth only from a vantage point that is above and looking straight down doesn’t consider the humanity of living on the landscape.” […]

To ensure the resilience and well-being of the places where we live, we cannot assume that land is simply ours for the taking, a means to our own ends. The Zuni maps remind all of us that we, too, must take the time to deeply listen, to hear and share stories in which we and the land have equal voice.

Related → Indigenous Knowledge Can Help Solve the Biodiversity Crisis.

Anthropocene, an Epoch After All?

In issue No.90 I linked to The Arrogance of the Anthropocene which argued that however large our impact on the planet currently is, it’s nothing in the face of deep time—if you didn’t read it then, have a look for a better understanding of the sheer scale of time. Now Peter Brannen is back—after multiple discussions (and arguments) with other geologists—and looks at some of the thinking from the Anthropocene Working Group, who have taken a different angle to the word. It might seem like splitting hair, but they provide a useful perspective. TL;DR: Whether we leave any actual traces observable millennia from now, we will leave the planet different than it was before us, and thus we are having a geological scale impact.

The Anthropocene, for Wing, simply states that humans are now a permanent part of this immutable thread of Earth history. What we’ve already done means that there’s no unspoiled Eden to which we could ever return, even if we disappeared from the face of the Earth tomorrow. […]

“It doesn’t stake out a hopeful future and it doesn’t stake out a catastrophic future,” Wing said. “It just says that if you want to be a sentient species you have to reckon with the degree to which you have already changed things.” […]

In the Paleozoic, land plants conquered the continents and geoengineered the planet, possibly contributing to, or even causing, at least 10 extinction pulses over 25 million years, including one of the worst mass extinctions in Earth history. Land plants profoundly and permanently altered Earth’s geochemical cycles, underwrote the flourishing of all subsequent life on land, and might have sequestered so much carbon dioxide that they kicked off a 90-million-year ice age. […]

The Internet of creation disappeared. Now we have the Internet of surveillance and control

We often read and argument about the two titans of big tech (US and China) clashing, and of Europe trying to frame and defend a certain vision through regulation and penalties. In this interview, Renata Ávila reminds us of the billions of unconnected being preyed upon through a new form of colonialism, and the leadership Europe could/should take by offering “alternatives that respect human rights and alternative business models that are not based on data extractivism. This will not be competitive in the market but it could come from governments, putting social interests at the centre.” I’m not expecting too much in that direction, but such a “values model” does seem more doable to me than France fostering 25 American-like Unicorns by 2025, as Macron dreams of doing. There’s a gigantic risk of such alternatives becoming colonial themselves, but bringing money and leadership to such an inclusive model “for everyone else” could be a vision with some chance of counterbalancing the GAFAM-BATX axis and would make sense, at the very least population numbers wise.

Her arguments are essential for preventing ourselves from being crushed by the technological world, from being carried away by the current of ephemeral divertemento. For being fully aware that, as individuals, our battle is not lost, but that we can control the use of our data, refuse to give away our facial recognition or demand that the privacy laws that protect us are obeyed. […]

“The connectivity that is offered today to poor people is the connectivity of control and of chains.” […]

“Do I connect them to a free centralised system in exchange for giving away all the data of my citizens? They have not even developed digital literacy skills. Where do I begin? Do I take them to a new phase of dependency, of colonisation?” […]

“At the start of the 21st century, one of the questions that excited me most about access to the Internet was the possibility of producing infinite copies of books and sharing knowledge. That idea of an Internet that was going to be a tool for integration and access to knowledge has shattered into smithereens. It was a booby trap. We are working as the unpaid slaves of the new digital world.”

AI in 2019: A Year in Review

The AI Now Institute held a symposium where Kate Crawford and Meredith Whittaker gave a talk summarizing the year in AI. Covers (1) facial and affect recognition; (2) the movement from “AI bias” to justice; (3) cities, surveillance, borders; (4) labor, worker organizing, and AI, and; (5) AI’s climate impact. Loads and loads of links, useful as an overview, and as a nice starting point to catchup on what’s going on in the field.

There has also been wider use of affect recognition, a subset of facial recognition, which claims to ‘read’ our inner emotions by interpreting the micro-expressions on our face. As psychologist Lisa Feldman Barret showed in an extensive survey paper, this type of AI phrenology has no reliable scientific foundation. But it’s already being used in classrooms and job interviews — often without people’s knowledge. […]

And let’s be clear, this is not a question of needing to perfect the technical side or ironing out bias. Even perfectly accurate facial recognition will produce disparate harms, given the racial and income-based disparities of who gets surveilled, tracked and arrested. As Kate Crawford recently wrote in Nature — debiasing these systems isn’t the point, they are “dangerous when they fail, and harmful when they work.” […]

As part of the deal, Amazon gets ongoing access to video footage; police get access to a portal of Ring videos that they can use whenever they want. The company has already filed a patent for facial recognition in this space, indicating that they would like the ability to compare subjects on camera with a “database of suspicious persons” — effectively creating a privatized surveillance system of homes across the country.


Header image: Neauismea. Daily photographs from the inhabited ages of Dinaisth.