Tag: surveillance capitalism (page 1 of 3)

Meredith Whittaker on AI doomerism

This interview with Signal CEO Meredith Whittaker in Slate is so awesome. She brings the AI ‘doomer’ narrative back time and again both to surveillance capitalism, and the massive mismatch between marginalised people currently having harm done to them and the potential harm done to very powerful people.

What we’re calling machine learning or artificial intelligence is basically statistical systems that make predictions based on large amounts of data. So in the case of the companies we’re talking about, we’re talking about data that was gathered through surveillance, or some variant of the surveillance business model, that is then used to train these systems, that are then being claimed to be intelligent, or capable of making significant decisions that shape our lives and opportunities—even though this data is often very flimsy.


We are in a world where private corporations have unfathomably complex and detailed dossiers about billions and billions of people, and increasingly provide the infrastructures for our social and economic institutions. Whether that is providing so-called A.I. models that are outsourcing decision-making or providing cloud support that is ultimately placing incredibly sensitive information, again, in the hands of a handful of corporations that are centralizing these functions with very little transparency and almost no accountability. That is not an inevitable situation: We know who the actors are, we know where they live. We have some sense of what interventions could be healthy for moving toward something that is more supportive of the public good.


My concern with some of the arguments that are so-called existential, the most existential, is that they are implicitly arguing that we need to wait until the people who are most privileged now, who are not threatened currently, are in fact threatened before we consider a risk big enough to care about. Right now, low-wage workers, people who are historically marginalized, Black people, women, disabled people, people in countries that are on the cusp of climate catastrophe—many, many folks are at risk. Their existence is threatened or otherwise shaped and harmed by the deployment of these systems…. So my concern is that if we wait for an existential threat that also includes the most privileged person in the entire world, we are implicitly saying—maybe not out loud, but the structure of that argument is—that the threats to people who are minoritized and harmed now don’t matter until they matter for that most privileged person in the world. That’s another way of sitting on our hands while these harms play out. That is my core concern with the focus on the long-term, instead of the focus on the short-term.

Source: A.I. Doom Narratives Are Hiding What We Should Be Most Afraid Of | Slate

Continuous eloquence is tedious

Corner of a high-rise building

🏭 Ukraine plans huge cryptocurrency mining data centers next to nuclear power plants — “Ukraine’s Energoatom followed up [the May 2020] deal with another partnership in October. The state enterprise announced an MoU with Dutch mining company Bitfury to operate multiple data centers near its four nuclear power plants, with a total mining consumption of 2GW.”

It’s already impossible to buy graphics cards, due to their GPUs being perfect for crypto mining. That fact doesn’t seem like it’s going to be resolved anytime soon.

😔 The unbearable banality of Jeff Bezos — “To put it in Freudian terms, we are talking about the triumph of the consumerist id over the ethical superego. Bezos is a kind of managerial Mephistopheles for our time, who will guarantee you a life of worldly customer ecstasy as long as you avert your eyes from the iniquities being carried out in your name.”

I’ve started buying less stuff from Amazon; even just removing the app from my phone has made them treat me as just another online shop. I also switched a few years ago from a Kindle to a ePub-based e-reader.

📱 The great unbundling — “Covid brought shock and a lot of broken habits to tech, but mostly, it accelerates everything that was already changing. 20 trillion dollars of retail, brands, TV and advertising is being overturned, and software is remaking everything from cars to pharma. Meanwhile, China has more smartphone users than Europe and the USA combined, and India is close behind – technology and innovation will be much more widely spread. For that and lots of other reasons, tech is becoming a regulated industry, but if we step over the slogans, what does that actually mean? Tech is entering its second 50 years.”

This is a really interesting presentation (and slide deck). It’s been interesting watching Evans build this iteratively over the last few weeks, as he’s been sharing his progress on Twitter.

🗯️ The Coup We Are Not Talking About — “In an information civilization, societies are defined by questions of knowledge — how it is distributed, the authority that governs its distribution and the power that protects that authority. Who knows? Who decides who knows? Who decides who decides who knows? Surveillance capitalists now hold the answers to each question, though we never elected them to govern. This is the essence of the epistemic coup. They claim the authority to decide who knows by asserting ownership rights over our personal information and defend that authority with the power to control critical information systems and infrastructures.”

Zuboff is an interesting character, and her book on surveillance capitalism is a classic. This might article be a little overblown, but it’s still an important subject for discussion.

☀️ Who Built the Egyptian Pyramids? Not Slaves — “So why do so many people think the Egyptian pyramids were built by slaves? The Greek historian Herodotus seems to have been the first to suggest that was the case. Herodotus has sometimes been called the “father of history.” Other times he’s been dubbed the “father of lies.” He claimed to have toured Egypt and wrote that the pyramids were built by slaves. But Herodotus actually lived thousands of years after the fact.”

It’s always good to challenge our assumptions, and, perhaps more importantly, analyse why we came to hold them in the first place.

Quotation-as-title by Blaise Pascal. Image by Victor Forgacs.

Microcast #086 — Strategies for dealing with surveillance capitalism

Over the last year (at least) I’ve been talking about the dangers of surveillance capitalism. Stephen Haggard picked up on this and, after an email conversation, sent through an audio provocation for disucssion.

Microcast #086 — Strategies for dealing with surveillance capitalism

If you’d like to join this discussion, feel free to comment on this microcast, or reply with your own thoughts in audio or text format in a part of the web under your control!

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Image cropped and rotated from an original by Tim Gouw