This week → Dystopia for realists ⊗ The counter-map and the territory ⊗ The diminishing returns of calendar culture ⊗ Generation ships and monarch butterflies
I’m not quite sure how to frame this piece by Lizzie O’Shea. For longtime readers, there isn’t that much new in here, although it is a very good overview of the multiple ways in which AI is currently encroaching on people’s liberties while making a series of mistakes and failures which would be comical if they weren’t so serious.
However, there is something to the way O’Shea assembles it and touches on a few other ideas we’ve seen around here. First, how a number of big tech oligarchs are afraid of AI in a way that caricatures their ideology. They fear an “artificially intelligent apex predator,” basically wondering, without realising it, ‘what might I do if I were supremely intelligent? Oh, probably destroy the microbes who created me.’ In other words, they think a supremely intelligent AI would be a supremely intelligent version of themselves. Second, the idea we’ve seen a few times that someone’s utopia is someone else’s dystopia. Well here someone’s future dystopia (dangerous AIs threatening a way of life) is someone else’s present day dystopia.
Finally, her conclusion and most important insight is intriguing. If we assume that some AI will be useful, if we realise that they are decision-making machines, if we understand that they will make mistakes, what then? O’Shea suggests going the way of “a more capacious idea of rights—including the right to appeal, the right to privacy, and concepts of individual human dignity.” And coming up with the right kind of regulation which “would require documentation, controlled experimentation, caution, and consideration.” Again, not specifically new but the idea that AIs “process us as raw material and treat us as deidentified subjects defined by our metadata,” echoed for me carbon emissions. Basically, if AIs and emissions are going to exist, then thorough accounting, accountability, and pricing of externalities might help society to control these things. I’m not sold on either one, but perhaps if there is a common(ish) set of tools and approaches to controlling two types of excesses, maybe those two pushes for control can reenforce each other?
[F]ormer Detroit police chief James Craig estimated facial recognition failed 96 percent of the time. More generally, research indicates that over 85 percent of artificial intelligence projects used in business fail. The failure rates of these automated systems are a stunning indictment of technology that is the object of such significant financial and political investment. […]
At present, systems of automation support a lucrative industry and provide cover to governments that prefer to spend money on technology-as-magic rather than grapple with social inequality and dysfunction. This is politically possible because our present system allows for the benefits of the automation revolution to be privatized and the harms to be socialized. […]
Given we live in a digital dystopia of decision-making gone haywire, should we embrace a counter-utopian ideal of being failure free, or a realist rejection of the idea that such a thing is possible? […]
What does it mean for natural language processing that a significant amount of news media in recent decades has been obsessed with the nexus between Islam and terrorism, for example? As Crawford observes, “Datasets in AI are never raw materials to feed algorithms: they are inherently political interventions.” […]
If the purpose of a system is what it does, we need to impart intention into our use of automated technologies by building in systems of rights for those who experience these systems in unintended ways.
Nabil Ahmed for Archis explores how to fight a map with a map, specifically in Papua, one of Indonesia’s largest and most profitable provinces yet its poorest. Following Dutch de-colonisation, President Sukarno’s regime used large-scale mining projects to finance the government and rest control of West Papua from indigenous tribes inhabiting the region. Through the years, Freeport PT Indonesia, a subsidiary of Freeport McMoran, continued mining, polluting, and even using a whole river as a dumping ground where “[o]ver 200,000 tons of tailings flow through the river per day into this area, which contain highly toxic arsenic, copper, cadmium, and selenium.”
Over decades, local tribes have made gains in the Indonesian constitution, “which recognizes customary forest rights and practices such as participatory mapping.” Today, using mapping tools, people on the ground, GPS, and satellite imaging, they are mapping out and trying to reclaim lands that were theirs for centuries before colonisation, and documenting pollution, destruction, and expansion of mines. No doubt the companies and some politicians will fight tooth and nail against it, but it’s nonetheless hopeful and more than a little pleasing to see tools of the colonisers being used the other way around.
Freeport, which now shares the mine with Rio Tinto uses a 293,000-hectare area including the Otomina and Ajkwa River to the Ararfura Sea in effect as a geotechnical system for tailing deposition. The journey for the toxic waste begins from the mine located over 4,000 feet above sea level through its ore-processing centre down to the lowland estuaries and a diverse forested coastal zone of mangroves, sago, tropical, and cloud forests. […]
Historically mapping as a hegemonic practice and more recently remote sensing have been extensively used to locate earth’s resources. The same methods are now increasingly used to evidence resource exploitation for the service of environmental and human rights. […]
The anthropologist Nancy Lee Peluso has called forest mapping in Indonesia a form of ‘local territorialization’ where the maps and map-making act as an advocacy tool for land rights.
Anne Helen Petersen on monochronic and polychronic time, the use of digital calendars, shared calendars, power moves in academia and elsewhere, and who ends up with the heavy lifting and constraints around it all.
Great read (via Keely in the Sentiers Discord) and I encourage all of you to read it and ponder how you use time and fall in line with productivity culture. Parts of the piece reminded me of a tweet that made the rounds early in the pandemic, something like “stop blaming yourself for ‘failing,’ the system/economy is not built for two parents working, especially not at home.” One grave issue with monochronic/hustle culture and the pressures of capitalism is that it becomes so ingrained in us that we blame ourselves when we fail to fit that very narrow and un-diversified mould.
Through the commitment to busyness and its organization, we inscribe and reinscribe a certain understanding of time onto our children, onto each other, onto ourselves. We discipline our messy, distracted, inquisitive, emotive selves into the most valuable possible forms of human capital possible. We suggest that sort of regimentation is not only possible (just organize harder!) but aspirational. […]
How, in other words, would you make a calendar that accommodated “the life of the mind” but also respected and equalized that work with those who foster the environment that makes that life possible? What about a calendar rooted in solidarity instead of individuality, or community instead of the family unit? […]
I’m drawn to Ross Zurowski’s articulation of long calendars and short seasons as a way to think through periods of waxing and waning intensity and focus, particularly when it comes to episodic/project-based work.
Generation ships and monarch butterflies → “Whether we are thinking about butterfly migration or generation ships, these multigenerational projects have something to teach us. As per the essay on the ethics of generation ships, “Asking about the permissibility of generation ships might give us a fresh perspective on the permissibility of the constraints we impose now on human lives, here on the biggest generation ship of them all – our planet.”
The climate economy is about to explode → “I remember that fateful moment around 2010 when the valence of the industry switched—it was right around when The Social Network came out—and working in tech went from being a career choice for dorky optimists to the default career track for many ambitious college students. A similar switch is coming for companies working on climate change: The opportunity will be too large, the money too persuasive, the problems too intriguing.”
No.238 Asides ⊕ See Note
- 🤩 In practice: Superflux and essay by Anab Jain and Hanna Sarsa. “Imagining and spatialising possible futures on our planet helps overcome climate change apathy.”
- 📚 New issue of Kernel Magazine. In the first one they asked Where do we go from here? In this one they ask, How do we get there?
- 💬 🇷🇺 This headline is 21st Century af. $620 for an HIV diagnosis: Russians buy their way out of military service on Telegram. “The platform has given rise to a robust cottage industry helping Russian men avoid mobilization.”
- 🤬 😱 🦭 Animal populations experience average decline of almost 70% since 1970, report reveals. We are complete fools. And by we I mean largely rich western countries. And by rich western countries I mean mostly our ‘leaders’ and business magnates. But the rest of us too.
- 🤔 🤔 ☀️ 🇦🇺 Out of thin air: new solar-powered invention creates hydrogen fuel from the atmosphere. “According to its inventors, the prototype produces hydrogen with greater than 99% purity and can work in air that is as dry as 4% relative humidity. The device would allow hydrogen to be produced without carbon emissions even in regions where water on land is scarce, they say.”
- 😍 😍 This Year’s Small World Photo Contest Unveils the Astounding Details Only Visible Under the Light Microscope.
- 😍 Sebastian Foster’s Limited-Edition Disrupted Realism Print Set Featuring Works Reshaping Realism. “Disrupted Realism is the first book to survey the works of contemporary painters who are challenging and reshaping the tradition of Realism. Helping art lovers, collectors, and artists approach and understand this compelling new phenomenon, the volume includes the works of 38 artists whose paintings respond to the subjectivity and disruptions of modern experience.”
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