The Human Labor Behind Artificial Intelligence, or: The Politics of AAI

The term Artificial Intelligence (AAI) has been chosen to shed light on the fact that AI only appears to work autonomously. In reality, human labor is required to create this magical appearance. To this end, millions of micro tasks are distributed to workers via platforms such as Amazon Mechanical Turk. Their flexible ‘daily work’ forces one to think about the future of labor as such. Is liberation from rigid structures under way, or are new forms of exploitation emerging?

In our workshop we discussed the different aspects of AAI. We are researchers, writers, editors, artists, designers, and photographers who all come into contact with AAI on a more or less daily basis. In the end, we all do a kind of hidden work within our day to day routines.

Developing our ideas for the workshop we’ve gotten to the point where we want to learn more about what SILENT could mean. Below you will find the two projects that we came up with.

The first group comes to the question whether we are all about to become silent workers. In the end, will silent work be the new normality for all of us? Their project to explore this more deeply in the form of telling stories about personal experiences, reveals intimate relationships with aspects of silent work.

Encountering Silent Workers

How do we encounter silent workers? How do we see what is meant to be hidden behind apps and interfaces? In our group work, we went on an unusual search: the search for our personal encounters with silent workers as researchers, academics and scholars. While some of us hired workers in order to find interview partners, others were pushed into using platform labour and tried to turn it into a research inquiry. Some were trying to relate their own isolating experiences of working from home in the pandemic with those of digital homeworkers.

Others were reflecting on the very absence of an encounter due to the invisibilization of microwork in final AI products. The resulting text is bringing these different personal encounters into a cacophonic conversation with each other. How do we deal with our own role as users, researchers, workers and activists in relation to silent workers? How did the pandemic transform our possibilities to encounter these workers? How to understand the noisy surroundings, the landscapes and the concrete embeddness of this kind of work trough a screen? With remote work threatening to become the new normal, will we all turn into silent workers? How to create noise and how to make the voices of noisy workers visible?

By: Aude Launay, Shintaro Miyazaki, Catherine Sotirakou and Mira Wallis

Prophecies 4 the Future of Work

The second group poses the question of the possible futures of Silent Work. By categorising these possible futures into themes such as LOVE, FAMILY & CARE, HEALTH, VOCATIONAL LIFE AND MONEY or LINK TO PAST (WORKERS), they built an oracle for giving prophecies for (future or present) AAI-workers.

Prophecies 4 the Future of Work was produced by a group of digital researchers (Felix Diefenhardt, Aslı Dinç, Katrin M. Kämpf , Nelli Kambouri, Felix Nickel). We got together in the three-day online workshop of the Silent Works project during the pandemic to exchange ideas about silence and precarious work. All of us had done research exploring different aspects of the invisible digital working of contemporary capitalism and had first hand experiences of its silent factory of precarity. We were particularly interested in exploring its intersectional gendered aspects.

What intrigued us was the existence of fortune-telling apps. Aslı told us about her experience as a content producer for one of these apps. We weren’t able to produce such an app in the short time of the workshop, but we tried to imagine what would happen if a silent worker hacked such a fortune-telling app: instead of general and ambiguous, cryptical messages about love, career, and money, the app would come up with phrases that responded to precarious workers’ anxieties about their labour future. Through our text, we simulate the possible prophecies that a silent worker may come up with at the same time as a producer and a user.

Our imaginary fortune-telling app imitates the futuristic scenarios about how work will be transformed, which are common in official reports about the Future of Work, but at the same time subverts them by imitating with a twist of irony the cryptic language of fortune-telling and by addressing the seemingly minor concerns that structure our every day life rhythms.

Contrary to the scientific certainties of official policy agendas, we wanted to enact an app that gives ambiguous answers about silent workers’ love, family, money and past employer anxieties, but also brings to the forefront impossible work-life balance issues and makes unequal labour relations visible. In this context, the imaginary app becomes a vehicle to narrate how work and life become intertwined in workers’ struggles and how desire, fear and uncertainty play a role in making sense of an ever-changing world, especially during the pandemic.


This project was conceived at the Berliner Gazette annual conference 2020 entitled SILENT WORKS. Access the project site by clicking this URL:

It was collaboratively created by: Felix Diefenhardt, Aslı Dinç, Nelli Kambouri, Katrin M. Kämpf, Aude Launay, Shintaro Miyazaki, Felix Nickel, Catherine Sotirakou, Mira Wallis; and facilitated by: Gosia Jagiello, Holger Kral & Andreas Schneider.

The content of this project is licensed under Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 4.0.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *