Whose Labor is Hidden in AI-Capitalism?

Under AI-capitalism, labor seems – across classes and contexts – to be gradually becoming extinct, although labor 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 obscures the wide-ranging restructuring of work. In other words, rather than buying into the myth of labor as a fading reality, it is necessary to look at labor as a buried reality that needs to be excavated from beneath dominant narratives and power structures. The Berliner Gazette's Winter School 2020 is launching its intervention at this critical juncture under the title “Silent Works. The Hidden Labor in AI-Capitalism.” Encompassing an exhibition, a conference, and texts, the project is organized by Magdalena Taube and Krystian Woznicki – two Berlin-based journalists/researchers working towards the commons by exploring the potential of hybrid forms of collective agency.

Organizers’ Statement

Working and Learning

The Berliner Gazette’s 2020 Winter School is conceived as a social space which investigates possibilities for re-inventing ‘the school’ along the lines of ‘the factory.’ Here, the school echoes the architecture of the late capitalist version of the factory: the co-working space. The setting provides the possibility for ‘free’ cognitive work to be pursued – be it social, political, economic, or artistic. Blank table ensembles invite workers to take a seat, open a laptop or a book, and immerse themselves.

The everyday cognitive work in the co-working space can take place alongside and in dialogue with educational work by exposing oneself to academic, activist, and artistic material that explores the imperceptibilization of labor processes as the basis for coding, controlling, and conditioning social reality.

Such material is provided by research groups, inter-disciplinary collectives, activist initiatives, and artists including Benjamin Heisenberg (Switzerland), Diego de la Vega Coffee Co-op (Mexico/US), eeefff (Belarus/Russia), Giorgi Gago Gagoshidze (Georgia), Into the Black Box (Italy), Melanie Gilligan (Canada), metroZones (Germany), NoCyberValley (Germany), oddviz (Turkey), Peng! (Germany), Petero Kalulé (Uganda/UK) / AM Kanngieser (Australia), Shinseungback Kimyonghun (South Korea), Tekla Aslanishvili (Georgia), and University of the Phoenix (Canada).

Co-creating social space

The contributions are presented in the style of an exhibition, and 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.

To actively energize the tensions between ‘the school’ and ‘the factory,’ educational events will be staged, including classes with contributors to the Winter School and an international conference. Animating the Winter School as a potential work platform while keeping access to the educational material open, the space design enables the ongoing creation of encounters between ‘the school’ and ‘the factory.’

In times of Covid-19-related social distancing and social lockdown, the Berliner Gazette Winter School 2020 offers the possibility to collectively redefine how one can co-create social space while practicing and demonstrating the kind of responsibility and solidarity so urgently required today.

Booklets + Online Dossiers

In conjunction with the Berliner Gazette’s Winter School 2020 an accompanying booklet entitled “Silent Works. The Hidden Labor in AI-Capitalism” has been published (download here). In addition, a companion volume entitled “Invisible Hand(s)” – containing interviews with activists, researchers, and cultural workers – enables a historical and socio-political contextualization of this year’s Winter School topic in the framework of the Covid-19 pandemic (download here).

Additional texts and interviews have been published on our SILENT WORKS blog at Mediapart.fr (in English) and in a special section of the Berliner Gazette (in German). Please scroll down for further information.

Magdalena Taube and Krystian Woznicki, Berlin, October 2020

Winter School

Welcome + Access

The Berliner Gazette’s Winter School 2020 takes place at the Haus der Statistik on November 7-28, 2020. The Winter School invites you to study the politics of making labor im/perceptible and to explore how the ongoing restructuring of work also enables a recasting of what labor means in the context of art and media. Although a closed facility, the Winter School is accessible: You can visit the Winter School by appointment only. You can request a study and work desk by sending an email (see registration info on the right).

Hygiene
Please wear a face mask and practice social distancing when entering and exploring the space. The use of the Corona app is recommended.

Registration

Visiting the Winter School: Registration via email is required for regular use of the Winter School as a learning facility or co-working space. The opening hours are Wed-Sat 1-7 p.m. If you plan a visit with a group of more than 10 students, then please mail us in advance under info(at)berlinergazette.de

Attending classes: If you are interested in attending classes (see on the right) or the public talks of the conference (see below), please note that admission is free. However, since capacities are very limited due to Covid-19-related measures, please register by email under info(at)berlinergazette.de. Alternatively, you can register for remote access the classes. Digital versions of the classes will be provided as life streams or video recordings.

Classes

The Winter School will be inaugurated on November 7, 2020 at 5 p.m. with a talk by Klaus Lederer, Senator for Culture and Europe of Berlin and Deputy Governing Mayor of Berlin. Contributors to the Winter School will introduce themselves.

Additional dates on the educational program include a session with Giorgi Gago Gagoshidze and Melanie Gilligan on Nov. 20, 2020 at 5 p.m. and a closing session on Nov. 28, 2020 at 5 p.m. with Tekla Aslanishvili and Evelina Gambino.

Conference

Public Talks

The SILENT WORKS conference will take place at the Haus der Statistik on November 12-14, 2020. Bringing together 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 conference offers public talks and a three-day workshop program (see right side and below). Invited keynote speakers on the public talks program include scholar-activists Sana Ahmad (India), Abeba Birhane (Ireland), Callum Cant (UK), Kerstin Guhlemann (Germany), Nelli Kambouri (Greece), Luise Meier (Germany), Phoebe Moore (UK), and Katja Schwaller (Switzerland/US).

The public talks will take place at 5 p.m. on November 12, 13, and 14, 2020. If you are interested in attending the talks, please note that admission is free. However, since seats are limited due to Covid-19-related measures, please register by email under info(at)berlinergazette.de

Workshop Tracks

Arguably the heart of the conference, the workshops will bring together activists, researchers and cultural workers from more than 20 countries. 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 tracks will be limited to groups of 10 people, which – in the process – will create smaller ‘breakout groups’ (approx. 3-5 people). 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.

Workshop Schedule

Creating a unique space for cooperation, the BG invited key actors to form the core of the workshops, and enable the general public to register via a call for registration. The call for registration targeted (up-and-coming) hackers, journalists, activists and researchers. A limited number of participants was able to register for one of the five workshops.

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 4 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: Holger Kral + Cassie Thornton. Guests: Felix Diefenhardt, Gosia Jagiello, Dia Kayyali, Katrin Kämpf, Aude Launay, Shintaro Miyazaki, Felix Nickel, Catherine Sotirakou, Mira Wallis.

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: Jose Miguel Calatayud + Magdalena Taube. Guests: Géraldine Delacroix, Inga Lindarenka, Victoria Martinez, Monisha Caroline Martins, Julia Molin, Rebecca Puchta, Lira Ramadani, André Rebentisch.

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. Guests: Sana Ahmad, Desmond Alugnoa, Miriam Arentz, Mika Buljevic, Kerstin Guhlemann, Friederike Habermann, Clemens Melzer, Kevin Rittberger, Sotiris Sideris, Martina Staneva.

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: Niccolò Cuppini + Ela Kagel. Guests: Moritz Altenried, Jochen Becker, Régine Debatty, Katharina Höne, Alexander Klose, Tanja Krone, Oliver Lerone Schultz, Juliane Rettschlag, Gabriele Schliwa, Mathana Stender.

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. Guests: Lara Luna Bartley, Manuela Bojadžijev, Juan Caballero, Bronwyn Frey, Peter Hermans, hvale, Marta Peirano, Gustavo Sanroman, Brett Scott, Laura Wadden.

Texts

Intro

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 explain the Western phantasm of AI-driven capitalism, 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 in English, please visit Mediapart. The German version is available on Berliner Gazette.

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-driven capitalism’s myths. In a separate postscript Krystian Woznicki explores health and care work “On the Edges of Democracy.”

Interviews

Documenting the explosion of new labor struggles as the invisibilized work of people who provide ‘basic services’ is becoming more visible in the COVID-19 pandemic, this series of interviews brings together our findings from within emergencies in Austria, India, Italy, US, Japan, and Venezuela among others. Please read the following interviews that have been published in our SILENT WORKS blog on Mediapart.fr.

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 “corona crisis” means for mobile laborers in India – and the world at large; Niccolò Cuppini about the explosion of authoritarianism and labor struggles in Italy’s “War on Corona;” Kerstin Guhlemann about health protection in Industry 4.0 and humans as a disruptive factor; Angela Mitropoulos about the 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, and Katja Schwaller about how invisibilized work is made visible during the “corona crisis.”

Beiträge auf Deutsch

Magdalena Taube und Krystian Woznickis Einleitungsessays sowie die Interviews mit Dario Azzellini, Christine Braunersreuther, Sujatha Byravan, Niccolò Cuppini, Tom Holert und Katja Schwaller sind auch in deutscher Sprache in der Berliner Gazette erschienen. Eine Übersicht der Beiträge findet sich hier.

Darüber hinaus sind nur dort folgende Beiträge zu lesen: “An/Greifbar: Warum BerlinerInnen gegen die digitale Kolonialisierung ihrer Stadt aufbegehren” von Jochen Becker, “Wo beginnt der Krieg? Widerstände gegen militärisch-industrielle Forschungs-Black-Boxes” von Christian Heck, “Wer arbeitet im Maschinenpark? Logistik, Künstliche Intelligenz und die Infrastruktur des Alltags” von Alexander Klose, “Abschaffung der Arbeit? Künstliche Intelligenz, Kapitalismus und Transhumanismus” von Janina Loh und “Kybernetische Proletarisierung: Wie in der Pandemie existierende Konflikte verschärft werden” von Simon Schaupp.

Beiträge zu den SILENT WORKS-Fragestellungen können im Umfang von 10.000 Zeichen bis zum 30.9.2020 unter info(at)berlinergazette.de eingereicht werden.

Photos from the Kickoff







Exploring hidden labor in AI-capitalism, we organized a SILENT WORKS kickoff event at the transmediale on January 31 (top) and a SILENT WORKS warm-up event at Modell Berlin on September 23 (bottom). The photographer Andi Weiland captured some precious moments. Besides the photos presented here, there are more of Andi’s superb photos in this flickr album.

Video statements

Janina Loh (philosopher)

Benjamin Heisenberg (artist and film maker)

These videos were produced at the SILENT WORKS kickoff event at the transmediale on January 31. They are based on interviews conducted by the Berliner Gazette team: Magdalena Taube, Andi Weiland, and Krystian Woznicki. More videos from the SILENT WORKS project are to come.

About

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).

Organizers

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.

Follow us

Partners