What Is the Hidden Human Labor In AI-Driven Capitalism?

Under AI-driven capitalism, human labor seems – across classes and contexts – to be gradually becoming extinct, although it is in fact undergoing deep transformations. Thus, at the end of the day the task is to debunk the extinction myth and to inquire how it conceals the far-reaching restructuring of work. In other words, rather than buying into the myth of human labor as a fading reality, it is necessary to tackle labor as a buried reality that needs to be excavated from beneath dominant narratives and power structures. The SILENT WORKS project is launching its intervention at this critical juncture. Encompassing an exhibition, a conference, and a text series, the 2020 project will be curated by journalists/researchers Magdalena Taube and Krystian Woznicki and organized by Berliner Gazette in cooperation with Haus der Statistik – two Berlin-based initiatives looking for alternatives to AI-driven capitalism.

Modules

Exhibition

The SILENT WORKS exhibition will take place at the Haus der Statistik on November 7-28, 2020. It will bring artistic approaches together that explore the imperceptibilization of labor processes as the basis for coding, controlling, and conditioning social reality. This inquiry into the politics of making labor im/perceptible will shed light on the ongoing restructuring of work and, last but not least, enable a recasting of what labor means in the context of art and media. Invited artists include Tekla Aslanishvili, Gabriela Ceja, EEEFFF, Giorgi Gago Gagoshidze, Melanie Gilligan, Benjamin Heisenberg, Into the Black Box, Anja Kanngieser, metroZones, NoCyberValley, oddviz, University of the Phoenix, Peng!, and Shinseungback Kimyonghun. Save the date of the exhibition opening: November 7, 2020 at 5 p.m. A closing event is planned on November 28, 2020 at 7p.m., including a panel discussion with Orit Halpern and Evelina Gambino. Additional dates of the accompanying program with artist talks and guided exhibition tours will be announced soon.

Conference

The SILENT WORKS conference will take place at the Haus der Statistik on November 12-14, 2020. To investigate the issues of the project in the politico-discursive realm, the BG will create an agenda consisting of current initiatives and projects at the intersection of research and activism that are critically engaging with the restructuring of work in AI-driven capitalism. The BG will offer a three-day conference program including performances, city tours, workshops, and talks. Invited keynote speakers include researchers Abeba Birhane, Jenny Chan, Phoebe Moore, and Noopur Raval. Details on workshops are already available below, incl. call for registration.

Text series

The BG provides the SILENT WORKS project with a section in the Internet newspaper berlinergazette.de. Here, we intend to publish a selection of 50 reports, essays and interviews throughout 2020. This is an open forum to which writers, researchers, activists, artists, journalists and all kinds of other producers of (subjugated) knowledge are invited to contribute. The required text length is 10,000 characters. The language can be either German or English. The submission deadline is: May 29, 2020. Submissions under info(at)berlinergazette.de

Intro

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In an introductory essay, Berliner Gazette founding editors Magdalena Taube and Krystian Woznicki explore the hidden human labor in AI-driven capitalism, in the course of which they describe the ideas behind the SILENT WORKS project and present the questions the project intends to raise. This text is indebted to the collective findings from previous Berliner Gazette projects, including “Ambient Revolts” (2018) and “More World” (2019). On the right side we present the first two paragraphs. If you want to access the entire text at once, click here.

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Before artificial intelligence (AI) was invented as a technology, capitalism at large was driven by what could be called a fantasy of AI. This means that the most important economic processes – from decision making to production – were gradually delegated to some higher, magically autonomous intelligence imagined as, for instance, an ‘invisible hand’ steering the ‘self-regulated market.’ In the neoliberal age, this fantasy of AI has paved the way for the rise of actual AI technology. Ultimately, something was born at the very intersection of AI as a fantasy of capitalism and AI as a technology of capital that could be called AI-driven capitalism. Today, this far-reaching commingling of capitalist fantasy and capitalist technology is underlying processes of ‘market-friendly’ privatization and ‘market-transformative’ disruption—both coming to a head in ‘AI-powered geoengineering’ in the context of the climate crisis.

2

Meanwhile, AI-driven capitalism’s consequences impact an increasing number of social fields (finance, logistics, etc.) and, last but not least, the design, valorization, and perception of human labor. At first glance, the most urgent problem is that under AI-driven capitalism human labor seems – across classes and contexts – to be gradually becoming extinct, although it is in fact undergoing deep transformations. Thus, at the end of the day the task is to debunk the extinction myth and to inquire how it conceals the far-reaching restructuring of work. In other words, rather than buying into the myth of human labor as a fading reality, it is necessary to tackle labor as a buried reality that needs to be excavated from beneath dominant narratives and power structures.

Continue reading the complete English version on Mediapart. The German version is available on Berliner Gazette.

Workshops Nov. 12-14

Setting



The workshops will take place as part of the SILENT WORKS conference at the Haus der Statistik on November 12-14. Arguably the heart of the conference, the workshops will bring together activists, researchers and cultural workers from more than 20 countries. Creating a unique space for cooperation, the BG will invite key actors to form the core of the workshops, and enable the general public to register via the call for registration (details in bar on the right).

Cooperative Processes



To tackle the key issues of the SILENT WORKS conference, five parallel workshop tracks will take five different approaches to cooperative practices tackling the hidden human labor in AI-driven capitalism: AAI; CAPTCHA Factory; Dull, Dangerous + Dirty; Logistical Noir; and Invisible Organization (for descriptions, see below). The workshop groups will communicate before the conference in order to flesh out the workshop designs collaboratively. Led by experienced group leaders, participants will be invited to come up with possible answers to the questions raised by the SILENT WORKS initiative. The results will be made available as online resources via berlinergazette.de: they may include position papers, multimedia storytelling projects and collections of ideas. Check the workshop results from the previous BG conference and find photos from the workshops here.

Registration + Details



The call for registration targets (up-and-coming) hackers, journalists, activists and researchers. A limited number of participants will be able to register for one of the five workshops (AAI; CAPTCHA Factory; Dull, Dangerous + Dirty; Logistical Noir; and Invisible Organization) by contacting the following email: info(at)berlinergazette.de. The registration deadline is September 1. Registration fee: 50 Euro. Please note: As the five workshops will be running in parallel, each participant will be invited to commit to a single track. On November 12 and 13, the workshops will take place from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. On November 14, the workshop groups will present their results to the general public. The conference hosts will provide catering throughout the entire conference, including a warm lunch.

AAI

The term Artificial Artificial Intelligence (AAI) is intended to shed light on the fact that AI only appears to work autonomously. In reality human labor is required to create this magical appearance. For this purpose, millions of micro tasks are distributed to workers via platforms such as Amazon Mechanical Turk. Their flexible ‘daily work’ impels one to think about the future of labor as such. Is a liberation from rigid structures under way, or are new forms of exploitation emerging? Moderation: Kunitake Saso + Cassie Thornton.

CAPTCHA Factory

It has become a daily routine that users of ‘free web services’ have to identify themselves as human beings. While such a “Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart” (CAPTCHA) is officially a ‘security measure,’ it silently enables recruitment of users to do jobs that intelligent machines cannot yet do (well enough). The hidden human labor of identifying hardly legible words, blurred pictures or faces is only the tip of the iceberg. Starting from such largely unquestioned and invisiblized work processes, the following question arises: How should humans and machines work together in the future? Moderation: Claudia Núñez + Cristina Pombo.

Dull, Dangerous + Dirty

The origin of the term robot is the Czech word ‘robota,’ which can be translated as ‘compulsory labor.’ A hundred years ago, people imagined that this work was “dull, dangerous, dirty” – essentially, work that could not be performed by humans and had to be delegated to machines. Where are the boundaries between (invisibilized) ‘compulsory labor’ and freely chosen work today? What kind of work is considered dull, dangerous and dirty and will probably continue to be done by humans in the future? Moderation: Sabrina Apitz + Masha Burina.

Logistical Noir

Silicon Valley companies are expanding their logistical networks into every corner of the world. Increasingly, they rely on their employees to become assistants of intelligent machines that keep immaterial and material products, goods, and resources moving – like workers at Amazon warehouses who are subjected to the instructions of self-learning algorithms. In this context, possible futures of work are negotiated through new forms of refusal to work (loosely based on the motto: I am not a robot!). Which forms of current labor protests can teach us something about the needs of workers and the adaptability of companies? Moderation: Niccolo Cuppini + Nina Pohler.

Invisible Organization

With an algorithm as their boss, workers are prevented from meeting each other and organizing themselves. Nonetheless, they are rising up together: they abandon traditional representative structures – such as labor unions – and maintain local grassroots networks. This type of “invisible organization” was pioneered during the FIAT strikes in the 1960s and appropriated by Deliveroo riders in Great Britain (2017 et seq.). How can the invisible organization of today’s increasingly invisibilized workers be mobilized to actively shape the future of work? Moderation: Max Haiven + Yonatan Miller.

Video statements

Janina Loh (philosopher)

Benjamin Heisenberg (artist and film maker)

These videos were produced by the Berliner Gazette team: Magdalena Taube, Andi Weiland, and Krystian Woznicki. More videos from the SILENT WORKS project are to come.

Photos from the Kickoff







Various modes of hidden human labor in AI-driven capitalism were explored at the SILENT WORKS kickoff event at the transmediale on January 31. The photographer Andi Weiland captured some precious moments. All photos presented here were taken at the event. They can be shared under a Creative Commons license. Please look at more of Andi’s superb photos in this flickr album.

About

The curators of the SILENT WORKS project are Magdalena Taube and Krystian Woznicki. Magdalena is editor-in-chief of the internet newspaper Berliner Gazette and professor of Digital Media and Journalism at the Macromedia University of Applied Sciences in Berlin. She is the author of “Disruption des Journalismus” (2018) published by Institute of Network Cultures, Amsterdam and co-editor of numerous anthologies, including “A Field Guide to the Snowden Files” (2017). Her curatorial projects include “Signals. The Snowden Files in Media, Archives and Arts” (2017) and “BQV. Büro für Qualifikation und Vermögen” (2012). Krystian is a critic, photographer, and the co-founder of Berliner Gazette. Blending writing and photography, he has created books such as “After the Planes” (2017), co-authored with Brian Massumi, “Fugitive Belonging” (2018), and his most recent work “Undeclared Movements” – published by b_books in February 2020. His curatorial projects include “As Darkness Falls” (2014), “Temporary Embassies” (2008), and “Young Japanese Cinema” (1999).

Curators

The venue hosting SILENT WORKS was built in 1968-70 in the middle of Berlin – initially as the seat of the State Central Administration for Statistics (SZS) of the German Democratic Republic. With the reunification of Germany it then became federal property. Since 2008, the Haus der Statistik has been empty. 50,000 sqm vacancy right at Alexanderplatz, in the middle of Berlin, where most people are suffering from the consequences of real estate speculation and gentrification. An artistic protest campaign at the Haus der Statistik got things moving in 2015. Shortly thereafter, the Haus der Statistik initiative was founded, an alliance of various Berlin actors: social and cultural institutions, art collectives, architects, foundations and associations supporting the goal of creating affordable spaces for displaced user groups in the city center. By founding the Cooperative for Urban Development (“ZUsammenKUNFT Berlin eG”), in April 2016, the initiative became capable of action and legal capacity, subsequently forming an association between 5 partners (KOOP5) from civil society and administration. This association is oriented towards the common good and the diversity of uses – developing the Haus der Statistik as a space for cooperative living and working. A basis for this ambitious goal will be created by ‘pioneer uses’. During the current planning and construction phase, these pioneer uses – set on the ground floors – will contribute to shaping the future of the complex.

Venue

The organization behind the SILENT WORKS project is Berliner Gazette (BG) – a nonprofit and nonpartisan team of journalists, researchers, artists and coders. We experiment with and analyze emerging cultural as well as political practices. Since 1999 we have been publishing berlinergazette.de under a Creative Commons License – with more than 1,000 contributors from all over the world – as well as organizing conferences and editing books. Latest BG projects include 2019: More World – BG con | 2018: Ambient Revolts – BG con | 2017: Signals – Exhibition | A Field Guide to the Snowden Files – Book | Friendly Fire – BG con | 2016: Tacit Futures – BG con | 2015: UN|COMMONS – BG con | 2012: BQV. Büro für Qualifikation und Vermögen – Documentary | 2006: McDeutsch – Book.

Organizer

If you want to get updates on the SILENT WORKS project, please follow BG. For instance, you can keep in touch on twitter or on facebook. Please use the Hashtag #SilentWorks when posting messages on social networks. If you wish to be updated via email, you are very welcome to join our mailing lists. On our English language mailing list we share updates on BG projects as well as initiatives from our network associates and neighbors. You can subscribe here. On our German language mailing list we provide updates on what we publish in the online newspaper berlinergazette.de as well as selected info on events in Berlin. Please find more information and a subscription option here.

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