The Anatomy of Artificial Intelligence

In 1770, Hungarian inventor Wolfgang von Kempelen constructed a chess-playing machine known as the Mechanical Turk. His goal, in part, was to impress Empress Maria Theresa of Austria. This device was capable of playing chess against a human opponent and had spectacular success winning most of the games played during its demonstrations around Europe and the Americas for almost nine decades. But the Mechanical Turk was an illusion that allowed a human chess master to hide inside the machine and operate it.

Some 160 years later, Amazon.com branded its micropayment based crowdsourcing platform with the same name. According to Ayhan Aytes, Amazon’s initial motivation to build Mechanical Turk emerged after the failure of its artificial intelligence programs in the task of finding duplicate product pages on its retail website. After a series of futile and expensive attempts, the project engineers turned to humans to work behind computers within a streamlined web-based system.

The spectacle of the machine

Amazon Mechanical Turk digital workshop emulates artificial intelligence systems by checking, assessing and correcting machine learning processes with human brainpower. With Amazon Mechanical Turk, it may seem to users that an application is using advanced artificial intelligence to accomplish tasks. But it is closer to a form of ‘artificial artificial intelligence’, driven by a remote, dispersed and poorly paid clickworker workforce that helps a client achieve their business objectives. As observed by Aytes, “in both cases the performance of the workers who animate the artifice is obscured by the spectacle of the machine.”

This kind of invisible, hidden labor, outsourced or crowdsourced, hidden behind interfaces and camouflaged within algorithmic processes is now commonplace, particularly in the process of tagging and labeling thousands of hours of digital archives for the sake of feeding the neural networks…  As we see repeated throughout the system, contemporary forms of artificial intelligence are not so artificial after all… At every level contemporary technology is deeply rooted in and running on the exploitation of human bodies.

Quoted from Anatomy of an AI System, Kate Crawford and Vladan Joler, 2018.

Via: The exploitation, injustice, and waste powering our AI, Katharine Schwab, 2018.

The Screenless Office

Current interface culture is dominated by a few large corporatate players: google/Alphabet, Apple, Microsoft. For many of us who spend countless hours working, socializing and amusing ourselves while using technical media, these powerful players have a huge influence on our experience of everyday life. Our perception of the world around us and how we see ourselves in, it is mediated by the decisions of a few privileged managers, programmers and designers, mostly male and white on the west coast of the United States. To suggest any other way of living in a networked society is to risk being percieved as blasphemous, uncool, out-of-touch, escapist or simply absurd. These interfaces have become so embedded in our conception of reality that we now have a crisis of the imagination, where it is difficult to even think of anything different.

Removing the screen is a radical gesture denying conformity to the dominating forces of contemporary interface culture. By getting rid of the display, we force digital text and images back into the old conventions of print culture. While this might have a superficial, nostalgic appeal, more importantly, it puts us into the role of acting like amateur media archeologists, investigating the history of modern visual, literary and bureaucratic systems both technical and social. At the same time, by taking newer forms of digital media and packing it into the old container of print, we open up a new experimental field of analog-digital hybrid forms. Our goal is to discover and invent novel ways of living in the digital world which might be more informal, expressive and embodied.

The Screenless Office is a system for working with media and networks without using a pixel-based display. It is an artistic operating system. The office presents a radically alternative form of everyday human interaction with media. It is constructed using free/libre/open hard- and software components, especially for print, databases, web-scraping and tangible interaction. Currently, it exists as a working prototype with software “bureaus” which allow a user to read and navigate news, web sites and social media entirely with the use of various printers for output and a barcode scanner for input. While our existing software allows for interesting new ways of consuming media, we are currently working to expand the system to make it capable of publishing content and thereby, enabling a provocative possibility for active participation in contemporary social life.

Quoted from: The Screenless Office. Via Jeu de paume espace virtuel, May 2017.

Games on Disc More Energy Efficient than Downloads

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Assasin’s Creed IV: Black Flag

“This research investigates the carbon footprint of the lifecycle of console games, using the example of PlayStation 3 distribution in the UK. We estimate total carbon equivalent emissions for an average 8.8-gigabyte game based on data for 2010. Two delivery scenarios are compared: the first examines Blu-ray discs delivered by retail stores, and the second, games files downloaded over broadband internet.”

“Contrary to current consensus that downloaded data will result in lower carbon emissions than distribution by disc, producing and distributing an average-sized game by Blu-ray disc in 2010 resulted in approximately 50 to 90% less emissions than downloading. The estimated carbon emissions from downloading only fall below that of Blu-ray discs for games smaller than 1.3 gigabyte. The study findings serve to illustrate why it is not always true that digital distribution of media will have lower carbon emissions than distribution by physical means when file sizes are large.”

[Read more…]

Kremlin Replaces Computers by Typewriters

“Russia’s Federal Protection Service (FSO), the Kremlin agency that protects state officials like the president and the prime minister, has ordered 20 typewriters in an apparent bid to avoid leaks and surveillance like those revealed by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.” Read more. Via Slashdot.

Computers in Education

“The chief technology officer of eBay sends his children to a nine-classroom school here. So do employees of Silicon Valley giants like Google, Apple, Yahoo and Hewlett-Packard. But the school’s chief teaching tools are anything but high-tech: pens and paper, knitting needles and, occasionally, mud. Not a computer to be found. No screens at all. They are not allowed in the classroom, and the school even frowns on their use at home.”

Read more: A Silicon Valley School That Doesn’t Compute. Hat tip to Kris Peeters.

Best Curta Pictures Ever

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Curta pictures (thank you, Richard). More information on the device (previously): “Computing without electricity“.