The recording of an online lecture – organized by the Berliner Gazette Winter School on Big Blue Button – can be accessed by clicking on the speaker’s name: Phoebe Moore (UK).
Press the play-button below to watch a kick-off talk by Klaus Lederer (Germany).
There you will find stories of labor usually invisibilized in the infrastructure of essential services in the form of videos by Diego de la Vega Coffee Co-op (Mexico/US), eeefff (Belarus/Russia), Melanie Gilligan (Canada), and Peng! (Germany), and in the form of an audio essay by Petero Kalulé (Uganda/UK) and AM Kanngieser (Australia).
The ARTWORKS section also includes video documents of interventions into the unconscious and unwaged labor of looking by Shinseungback Kimyonghun (South Korea) and Benjamin Heisenberg (Switzerland).
Moreover, you will find supplements to onsite installations of research-based works by Into the Black Box (Italy), metroZones (Germany), and NoCyberValley (Germany), exploring how the transformation of cities and the restructuring of labor are being advanced by AI-savvy IT giants as two complementary and mutually enhancing processes.
Interviews with scholars, activists, and cultural workers are accessible on the SILENT WORKS blog at Mediapart.fr in English. Translations of these interviews into German and additional essays are available in a special section of the Berliner Gazette. Please scroll down to the DOSSIERS section to find a hyperlinked list of the available texts.
The booklet “Silent Works. The Hidden Labor in AI-Capitalism” contains descriptions of the artworks in the Winter School’s exhibition. You can browse the PDF or the visual reader. The companion volume “Invisible Hand(s). Hidden Labor, AI-Capitalism, and the Covid-19 Pandemic” discusses hidden labor in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic. You can browse the PDF or the visual reader. Both booklets are also available in printed form via the Zagreb-based Multimedijalni institut (Mi2).
Researching their contribution to SILENT WORKS, Peng! talked with Joanna Bronowicka, a sociologist of work, discussing labor struggles inside the Lieferando empire. Moreover, Peng! also held interviews in the German language with an activist from the Free Workers Union Berlin (Sarah Bekker) and with a Lieferando rider in Berlin (Mo).
Paolo Podinski and Magdalena Taube talked to Giorgi Gago Gagoshidze about “The Invisible Hand of My Father” and to University of the Phoenix about “The Curse of Amazon” – their artistic contributions to SILENT WORKS.
If you want to listen to these audios, please scroll down to the AUDIO DOCUMENTS section below.
As preparation for the Berliner Gazette Winter School 2020, we organized a warm-up event at Modell Berlin on September 23 and a kickoff event at the transmediale on January 31. We have documented both events with photos.
To look at the photos in our flickr album, click on the photographer’s name: Andi Weiland.
AI-capitalism is also in the process of establishing its regime of hidden labor where AI is only projected to play an important role in the future. This happens when the mere appearance or fantasy of full automation is successfully promoted, for instance, by naturalizing infrastructure: as long as its appeal of frictionless functioning can be upheld, infrastructure can remain practically invisible, while – in the course of this – the (waged and unwaged) labor that it requires becomes almost imperceptible.
By pretending that labor is becoming extinct due to the rise of full automation, dominant narratives and power structures are concealing the fact that labor is undergoing deep transformations. Thus, labor as a buried reality needs to be excavated from beneath these very dominant narratives and power structures. How is labor changing? Is labor becoming a site of conflict and contestation in the course of this? If so, then the question is how unlocking and politicizing the hidden labor so essential to AI-capitalism can contribute to the struggles. At this critical juncture, the Berliner Gazette’s Winter School Program 2020 focused on “The Hidden Labor in AI-Capitalism” under the title SILENT WORKS.
Co-creating social space
The resources were provided by research groups, interdisciplinary collectives, activist initiatives, and artists. Presented in the style of an exhibition, the resources were assembled into thematic groups: from the hidden labor in large-scale geoengineering projects and tech-driven urban transformation, to the juxtaposition of old and new forms of hidden labor (undervalued, unwaged, unhumaned, or illegalized labor), to the psychological dimension of how AI-capitalism’s assembly line morphs into the everyday and into the homes of laborers recruited by platforms such as Amazon Mechanical Turk.
Keeping access to the resources open and animating the Winter School as a work platform, the Berliner Gazette offered the possibility to collectively redefine how one can co-create social space in times of Covid-19-related social distancing and social lockdown, while practicing and demonstrating the kind of responsibility and solidarity so urgently required under the circumstances. By overcoming atomization and isolation – both being key to a class regime in which we as workers are essential but nonetheless, or rather precisely because of that, are denied proper political agency and economic participation – the Winter School inspired the collective realization of our deprivation and strategies against it. Now this inspiration can also unfold online.
Making a significant portion of its onsite program available online, the idea of the Berliner Gazette Winter School 2020 is to create a sustainable public archive of resources dealing with hidden labor in AI-capitalism – an idea that has gained ever greater urgency as world society has been undergoing one of its most severe crises in decades. The political, economic, and social consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic appear to make it more inevitable than ever to deal with the precarity of labor, especially vis-à-vis technocratic visions of full automation that are trying to reduce the risk posed to frictionless capitalism by disruptive (also read: contagious) humans.
Our program not only reflects this critical moment, but also provides timely impulses for struggles. It will remain accessible for years to come. Readers, viewers, and listeners will be able to look back while most likely still struggling to come to terms with what happened in 2020 when the so-called “Coronavirus crisis” caught us on the wrong foot.
Magdalena Taube and Krystian Woznicki, Berlin, November 30, 2020
‘Critical infrastructure’ has come to the foreground in the Covid-19 pandemic. Can the invisibilized work of people who are providing so-called essential services (inside this very infrastructure) become more visible in the course of this? If so, could this be an unexpected opportunity for labor struggles? San Francisco-based urban researcher Katja Schwaller is exploring these questions by focusing in particular on those areas of society where Big Tech is taking over. A tour to the dark side of Silicon Valley.
“Europe’s largest research consortium in the field of artificial intelligence with partners from science and industry” is emerging in Tübingen, a traditional university town in Southern Germany. Under the name CyberValley, it aspires to become a global center for high technology and innovation – just like Silicon Valley in California. NoCyberValley, a loose alliance of activists who have initiated various forms of protest, is reclaiming research labor from the claws of AI-capitalism that delegates it to mice and ‘Amazon scholars.’
Every censored video clip and every comment flagged as spam goes back to simple binary thinking: appropriate/inappropriate. These decisions appear to be automated, while in fact thousands of workers in the back rooms of digital platforms are carrying out these tasks around the clock: so-called content moderators, who are the invisibilized labor force holding web services together. Doing a hard job under precarious conditions, their struggles in India’s IT sweatshops are the focus of Sana Ahmad’s research.
Jose Miguel Calatayud
The “Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart” (CAPTCHA) is officially a mere “security measure,” asking users of “free” web services to identify themselves as human beings. Differentiating these users from bots, it silently forces users to do jobs intelligent machines cannot yet do (well enough). The hidden labor of identifying hardly legible words, blurred pictures or faces is only the tip of the iceberg. Jose Miguel Calatayud tackles this largely uncontested labor regime. See also below in the PROJECTS section.
In AI-capitalism the labor of the machine could be called – following Karl Marx’s theorization of the industrial revolution – inhuman labor. As in the industrial age, today’s inhuman labor in AI-driven industries such as finance, logistics, and, above all, web services, thrives only by extracting living, that is, human labor. Moreover, like back then, the more human labor it extracts, the more inhuman labor lives. Luise Meier tackles these largely invisibilized mechanisms, taking us on a tour of the dull, dangerous, and dirty routines of service work.
If Lieferando’s food delivery empire is representative of today’s AI-capitalism, then we are challenged to explore how we – as workers and also as users – can act within, against, and beyond this dehumanizing system of exploitation, extraction, and control. Who do you work for when your “boss” is an app? How do you go about demanding sick leave, minimum wage, and a safe job environment when a self-learning algorithm is in control? Peng! urges us to grapple with these urgent questions – and to collectively act.
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. Masha Burina asks: where do the boundaries between (invisibilized) ‘compulsory labor’ and freely chosen work lie today?
Promoting AI, the film industry pushes automation’s last mile ever further – the last tasks in the automation process that cannot be carried out by machines. For instance, AI-based image production is still backed up by a huge number of editors manually creating 3D processes, character animations, and other CGI effects. Benjamin Heisenberg shows that the human worker remains both the creative beginning and the necessary final link of an artistic-industrial process.
When our boss is an algorithm, we as workers are prevented from meeting each other and organizing ourselves. Nonetheless, we are challenged to rise up together, establishing local grassroots networks and reinventing traditional representative structures such as labor unions. Doing so, how can we actively shape the future of labor struggles and of labor as such? Yonatan Miller explores the challenges of sustainable organizing from a practical viewpoint.
Diego De la Vega
Awesome has emerged as one of the biggest profiteers of the Covid-19 pandemic, transforming its AI-savvy food logistics empire into “critical infrastructure.” Meanwhile, workers are being romanticized as an “essential” labor force in order to hold their bargaining power in check: “heroes” are expected to sacrifice themselves for “the greater good” rather than go on strike. Diego De la Vega’s mockumentary focuses on the perspectives of workers, consumers and activists regarding Awesome’s potential to open in NYC after its controversial withdrawal at the beginning of the year. Read more about Diego de la Vega’s contribution to SILENT WORKS in the booklet (pp. 10-12).
As per the status quo care workers make up an “essential” part of “critical infrastructure.” As long as this seemingly automated infrastructure functions in a frictionless fashion, it remains almost imperceptible; in the course of this, it contributes to literally invisibilizing the very workers sustaining it. In contrast, Melanie Gilligan’s video presents care workers as an integral but neglected part of (social) infrastructure, prompting viewers to think about how societies could ensure that they remain visible, recognized, and valued for the indispensable work they do. Read more about Melanie Gilligan’s contribution to SILENT WORKS in the booklet (pp. 19-21).
Just as in the US, India, or China platforms in the post-Soviet space are also assembling and extracting the labor power of an increasing numbers of workers. Caught up in the machinery of micro-tasking, crowdsourcing, stress, and A/B testing, they do all the hidden labor that appears to be automated. After hiring people on a post-Soviet headhunter platform, eeefff created a fictional space for them to talk and live through this alienated work. The resulting cacophony of comradely intimacy and algorithmically-paced work flows is documented in a hyper-real video-collage. Read more about eeefff’s contribution to SILENT WORKS in the booklet (pp. 13-14).
University of the Phoenix
The curse woven by an uncertain number of Mechanical Turk workers to abolish Amazon was encoded by these very workers in text fragments into Amazon’s empire, sometimes appearing visibly in the user comments of Amazon’s hegemonic marketplace, at other times smuggled into code and laced throughout the vast netherworld of Amazon’s servers. When assembled in a digital form (as it is throughout Amazon’s empire), the curse is extremely powerful. Preserving the curse in analog form for purposes of research and study, University of the Phoenix produced a video teaser accompanying the actual installation at the onsite exhibition. Read more about it in the booklet (pp. 36-37).
Disguised as employees of a fictional state authority (“Federal Office for Crisis Protection and Economic Assistance”), Peng! phoned Lieferando – Germany’s food delivery monopolist. Because the managing director thought he was talking to the government, Peng! was able to chat with him for 43 minutes about the working conditions in his AI-savvy delivery empire. Bluntly admitting that his company’s profits are only possible by keeping works councils out, he was also kind enough to provide instructions on how workers’ councils can build up pressure on delivery companies. To this end, please share Peng!’s flyer. Moreover, read about Peng!’s contribution to SILENT WORKS in the booklet (pp. 28-29).
Kalulé / Kanngieser
AI is tasked to apprehend and master the unknowable. This is a police function; AI becomes an operation of the force of the law, perpetuated intentionally, yet imperceptibly. Critically exploring AI labor practices, Petero Kalulé and AM Kanngieser’s audio essay tackles the teaching, training, and supervising of AI and how they are circumscribed under an AI design and ethics program. They look at online platform content moderators and how their knowledge as subjects of labor is programmed, classed, and unhumaned on an ongoing basis as a part of a global capitalist imaginary. Read more about Petero Kalulé and AM Kanngieser’s contribution to SILENT WORKS in the booklet (pp. 30-32).
Today’s capitalist world reinforces the assumption that humans are no longer key to its inner workings. Supposedly, things are run by the AI version of Adam Smith’s “invisible hand” – an inhuman power that is watching from beneath the clouds. But who valorizes what it sees? Who valorizes its gaze as such? Reworking Hitchcock’s impossible image from “The Birds,” Benjamin Heisenberg explores the labor of looking in AI-capitalism and prompts us (as laborers) to renegotiate our function for the invisible hand, showing that – despite assertions to the contrary – it continues to need humans to develop its inhuman power. Read about Heisenberg’s contribution to SILENT WORKS in the booklet (pp. 7-9).
Working with AI, art is not simply an autonomous product of intelligent machines, but in fact a product of human-machine symbiosis. Here, artistic labor is not least challenged to re-negotiate the boundaries between sleep and sleeplessness. Based on the night work of graffiti writers, oddviz’s labor-intensive video mimics the work of (sleepless) machine learning algorithms that organize the digitized world according to patterns: the capitalist realism of gentrification recoded as the AI surrealism of a collaboration that is yet to come between work and dreams. Read more about oddviz’s contribution to SILENT WORKS in the booklet (pp. 26-28).
In their quest for protection during the Covid-19 pandemic, cities are turning to masks – and consequently initiating a retreat into “solitary facelessness.” This confounds the very grounds on which facial recognition technology (FRT) rests. Now that people are covering their faces with masks in public (also read: monitored) spaces, they present a disruption to the technology’s preconditional order. Equipped with FRT, Shinseungback Kimyonghun’s mirror questions our relationship to our face as capital, and our looking as labor that AI technologies can render into value – or can’t. Read more about this contribution to SILENT WORKS in the booklet (pp. 28-29).
In a discursive environment, which corresponds to the imperative of economic-technological transformation, any criticism of it becomes an integral part of the resistance against the silencing of protest and labor struggles. Against this backdrop, NoCyberValley unlock the different voices of the protest against “Europe’s largest research consortium in the field of artificial intelligence.” Exhibited onsite in the visual diary “unmuted,” the (German-language) audio supplement samples everyday people arguing about the future of technology and the city. Read more about NoCyberValley’s contribution to SILENT WORKS in the booklet (pp. 23-25).
Into the Black Box
What is inside the Amazon warehouses that can be seen next to the highways? How does an Amazon Locker located in a supermarket work? How do a delivery girl, a truck driver, a picker, an Amazon technician work? Following their objective of reconstructing the transformations that Amazon is spearheading in the world of work, Into the Black Box’s multimedia cartography not only enables an elaborate critique of the Amazon model and its restructuring of labor, but also offers a glimpse into the potential for labor struggles yet to come. Check out this supplement to the onsite installation (view above). And read more about Into the Black Box’s contribution to SILENT WORKS in the booklet (pp. 17-18).
AI-savvy tech companies like Amazon are acting as urban developers, offering municipalities to provide and manage their basic infrastructure services in times of budgetary constraints. metroZones’ mixed media installation focuses on the economic, geographic, or social peripheries of this rising tech urbanism – be it the suburbs that are being transformed into a logistics hinterland, or the invisibilized multitude of bogus self-employed laborers who continuously process all kinds of online orders or drive them through the city. Check out this supplement to the onsite installation (view above). Read about metroZones’ contribution to SILENT WORKS in the booklet (pp. 21-23).
Using Big Blue Button, an open source alternative to corporate ‘data surveillance’ tools like Zoom, participants of the three-day online workshops (November 12-14) were invited to come up with cooperative projects. The resulting workshop projects are now available as online resources and include multimedia stories and utopian scenarios. Please check out the columns on the right hand side and at the bottom.
Felix Diefenhardt, Aslı Dinç, Gosia Jagiello, Holger Kral, Nelli Kambouri, Katrin Kämpf, Aude Launay, Darija Medic, Shintaro Miyazaki, Felix Nickel, Andreas Schneider, Catherine Sotirakou, Mira Wallis, and Jutta Weber looked for answers to this question. The resulting workshop projects are bundled under the title “The Hidden Human Labor Behind AI.”
Jose Miguel Calatayud, Géraldine Delacroix, Monisha Caroline Martins, Julia Molin, Rebecca Puchta, Lira Ramadani, André Rebentisch, Sotiris Sideris, and Cagri Taskin responded to this practically uncontested regime of labor with a project entitled “I Swear, I am not a Robot!” and – in French translation – entitled “Plaidoyer pour des captchas éthiques.”
Dull, Dangerous + Dirty
Sana Ahmad, Desmond Alugnoa, Sabrina Apitz, Miriam Arentz, Susanne Braun, Masha Burina, Kerstin Guhlemann, Friederike Habermann, hvale, Kevin Rittberger, Martina Staneva, and Dzina Zhuk responded to this question with a movie pitch, asking in return “What if Invisibilized Workers Reclaimed the Future?”
Jochen Becker, Niccolò Cuppini, Régine Debatty, Katharina Höne, Ela Kagel, Tanja Krone, Jacopo Ottaviani, Oliver Lerone Schultz, Juliane Rettschlag, Gabriele Schliwa, Nicolay Spesivtsev, and Mathana looked for answers to this question. One of the resulting workshop projects is entitled “They Don’t Give You Tips Anymore.”
Lara Luna Bartley, Mika Buljevic, Juan Caballero, Alina Floroi, Clara Gambaro, Max Haiven, Yonatan Miller, Barbara Orth, Zoran Pantelić, Marta Peirano, Jaron Rowan, Gustavo Sanroman, Brett Scott, and Laura Wadden looked for answers to this question. You can access the resulting workshop project by clicking on the title “Work, Care, and Invisible Organization.”
Giorgi Gago Gagoshidze
University of the Phoenix
Berlin vs. Amazon
Under the impression of the COVID-19 pandemic Magdalena Taube and Krystian Woznicki wrote a postscript to the introductory essay inquiring what it means to be “Working, Working Together, and Networking During the Web-Hype of the Pandemic” and how – along the way – we can debunk AI-capitalism’s myths. In a separate postscript Krystian Woznicki explores health and care work “On the Edges of Democracy.”
Dario Azzellini about capitalism’s system error as “disaster” and opportunity for labor struggles; Christine Braunersreuther about why the “system relevance” of care workers can no longer be denied; Sujatha Byravan about what the lockdown during the Covid-19 pandemic means for mobile laborers in India; Niccolò Cuppini about the explosion of authoritarianism and labor struggles in Italy’s “War on Corona;” Evelina Gambino about labor struggles in logistical landscapes; Kerstin Guhlemann about health protection in Industry 4.0 and humans as a disruptive factor; Angela Mitropoulos about the hidden labor of saving lives and saving capitalism; Tom Holert about learning as labor and re-inventing the school along the lines of the factory; Eiji Oguma about why the “robotization of care work in Japan” is a misleading myth; Katja Schwaller about how work is becoming a political issue during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Beiträge auf Deutsch
Die Einleitungsessays sowie die englischsprachigen Interviews sind auch in der Berliner Gazette erschienen. Eine Übersicht aller Beiträge findet sich hier.
The organizers 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).
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.
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.
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.