IN AMERICA, computers have been used to assist bail and sentencing decisions for many years. Their proponents argue that the rigorous logic of an algorithm, trained with a vast amount of data, can make judgments about whether a convict will reoffend that are unclouded by human bias. Two researchers have now put one such program, COMPAS, to the test. According to their study, published in Science Advances, COMPAS did neither better nor worse than people with no special expertise.
Tag Archives: Hi-Tech
Much of the current hysteria about the technology industry is due to its highly ambiguous relationship with its users. Driven by the logics of both compassion and indifference, this relationship has always been erratic yet functional. These two clashing rationales, for example, allowed technology companies, frequently painted as Dr Evil, to claim the mantle of Mother Theresa. However, as the unresolved contradictions of these logics pile up, we can’t fail to notice the incoherence of the industry’s overall social vision.
The compassion story has some truth to it. Tech giants have pegged their business models on our ability to consume. Thus, their interests are somewhat aligned with ours: we need a paycheque to buy what’s being advertised. A charitable comparison might be to Henry Ford paying his workers enough to buy his cars; a less charitable might be to slave owners keeping slaves fed not to lose them to exhaustion. However, unlike Ford or slave owners, our tech moguls want someone else to fund their preferred solutions (eg the universal basic income).
How are capitalism and the prospect of post-humanity related? Usually it is posited that capitalism is (more) historical, and our humanity, inclusive of sexual difference, more basic, even ahistorical. However, what we are witnessing today is nothing less than an attempt to integrate the passage to post-humanity into capitalism. This is what the efforts of new billionaire gurus like Elon Musk are about; their prediction that capitalism “as we know it” is coming to an end refers to “human” capitalism, and the passage they talk about is the passage from “human” to post-human capitalism. Blade Runner 2049 deals with this topic.
The first question to ask is: Why is the fact that two replicants (Deckard and Rachael) formed a sexual couple and created a human being in a human way, experienced as such a traumatic event, celebrated by some as a miracle and castigated by others as a threat? Is it about reproduction or about sex, i.e., about sexuality in its specific human form? The movie focuses exclusively on reproduction, again neglecting the big question: Can sexuality, deprived of its reproductive function, survive into the post-human era? The image of sexuality remains the standard one. The sexual act is shown from the male perspective, so that the flesh-and-blood android woman is reduced to the material support of the hologram fantasy-woman Joi created to serve the man: “she must overlap with an actual person’s body, so she is constantly slipping between the two identities, showing that the woman is the real divided subject, and the flesh and blood other just serves as a vehicle for the fantasy.“ The sex scene in the film is thus almost too directly “Lacanian” (in line with films like Her), ignoring authentic hetero-sexuality where the partner is not just a support for me to enact my fantasies but a real Other. The movie also fails to explore the potentially antagonistic difference among androids themselves, that is, between the “real flesh” androids and an android whose body is just a 3D hologram projection. How does, in the sex scene, the flesh-and-blood android woman relate to being reduced to the material support of the male fantasy? Why doesn’t she resist and sabotage it?
There’s no real plot in the “Metalhead” episode in the new season of “Black Mirror.” The star of the episode is a small, uncommunicative black robot that walks on all fours and is armed with a pistol stored in its front leg. Who controls the robot, if anyone, is never divulged. The four-legged mechanical creature operates seemingly on its own and for its own purposes. Over the course of the 40-minute episode, it hunts down a woman desperately fleeing through a forest, as she tries in vain to evade its sensors.
For those unfamiliar with the show, “Black Mirror” is a science fiction series on Netflix about a near-future in which new technologies reap terrible unintended consequences on our lives; they strip away personal independence, undermining our societal values and sometimes letting loose uncontrollable violence. As terrifying as they are, the technologies depicted in the show are not outlandish. Like the autonomous robot in “Metalhead,” they reflect easily conceivable, near-term advances upon currently existing technologies, such as drones.
One day last summer, around noon, I called Athena, a 13-year-old who lives in Houston, Texas. She answered her phone—she’s had an iPhone since she was 11—sounding as if she’d just woken up. We chatted about her favorite songs and TV shows, and I asked her what she likes to do with her friends. “We go to the mall,” she said. “Do your parents drop you off?,” I asked, recalling my own middle-school days, in the 1980s, when I’d enjoy a few parent-free hours shopping with my friends. “No—I go with my family,” she replied. “We’ll go with my mom and brothers and walk a little behind them. I just have to tell my mom where we’re going. I have to check in every hour or every 30 minutes.”
Those mall trips are infrequent—about once a month. More often, Athena and her friends spend time together on their phones, unchaperoned. Unlike the teens of my generation, who might have spent an evening tying up the family landline with gossip, they talk on Snapchat, the smartphone app that allows users to send pictures and videos that quickly disappear. They make sure to keep up their Snapstreaks, which show how many days in a row they have Snapchatted with each other. Sometimes they save screenshots of particularly ridiculous pictures of friends. “It’s good blackmail,” Athena said. (Because she’s a minor, I’m not using her real name.) She told me she’d spent most of the summer hanging out alone in her room with her phone. That’s just the way her generation is, she said. “We didn’t have a choice to know any life without iPads or iPhones. I think we like our phones more than we like actual people.”
Il 2017 è stato un anno molto strano per le aziende tecnologiche. Sono state accusate di essere un’istituzione sessista, di aver inquinato l’esito delle elezioni presidenziali, di aver “indebolito il tessuto sociale”, di aver distrutto una generazione e di aver manipolato i cervelli delle persone.
Ma, nonostante tutto, hanno guadagnato un mucchio di soldi! Apple, Google, Microsoft, Facebook e Amazon hanno registrato un aumento di valore delle loro azioni superiore al 33 per cento. Anche Oracle, Salesforce, Adobe, Autodesk, Hp, Dell e Intel hanno visto il valore delle loro azioni salire di oltre il 25 per cento. Sembra una contraddizione, ma chi può dirlo?
The digital turn of contemporary capitalism, with its promise of instantaneous, constant communication, has done little to rid us of alienation. Our interlocutors are many, our entertainment is infinite, our pornography loads fast and arrives in high-definition – and yet our yearnings for authenticity and belonging, however misguided, do not seem to subside.
Beyond the easy fixes to our alienation – more Buddhism, mindfulness and internet detox camps – those in the digital avant-garde of capitalism have toyed with two solutions. Let’s call them the John Ruskin option and the De Tocqueville option. The former extended the philosophy of the Arts and Crafts movement, with its celebration of craftsmanship and romantic, artisanal labour by Ruskin, William Morris and their associates, into the realm of 3D printers, laser cutters and computerised milling machines.
We are surrounded by hysteria about the future of Artificial Intelligence and Robotics. There is hysteria about how powerful they will become how quickly, and there is hysteria about what they will do to jobs.
As I write these words on September 2nd, 2017, I note just two news stories from the last 48 hours.
Yesterday, in the New York Times, Oren Etzioni, chief executive of the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence, wrote an opinion piece titled How to Regulate Artificial Intelligence where he does a good job of arguing against the hysteria that Artificial Intelligence is an existential threat to humanity. He proposes rather sensible ways of thinking about regulations for Artificial Intelligence deployment, rather than the chicken little “the sky is falling” calls for regulation of research and knowledge that we have seen from people who really, really, should know a little better.
It is summer 2002, mid-morning in a university research lab on the edge of Osaka, Japan. Two girls—both dressed in pale yellow, with child-puffy cheeks, black shoulder-length hair, and bangs—stand opposite each other under fluorescent lights. More precisely: One is a girl, 5 years old; the other is her copy, her android replica. They are the same size, one modeled on the other, and they are meeting for the first time. ¶ The girl stares hard into the eyes of her counterpart; its expression is stern and stiff. It seems to return her gaze. ¶ A man is videotaping the pair—he is the father of one, creator of the other—and from off-camera he asks, “Would you like to say something?” ¶ The girl turns to him, disoriented. She turns back to the android. ¶ “Talk to her!” he says. “Hello.” ¶ The girl repeats the word, quietly, to her robot-self. It nods. ¶ Her father feeds her another line: “Let’s play.”
The finger snapping started at an unlikely moment, in a session called “benchmarks for racial and economic justice.” OK, not an obviously inspiring name. But as the ambitious political demands popcorned around the room, the energy surged, and the snapping reached a crescendo.
- “End corporate welfare as we know it.”
- “Get the combustion engine off the roads within 10 years.”
- “A massive expansion of public housing, built on the principle of development without displacement.”
- “All 5,000 diesel trucks servicing the port upgraded to locally manufactured electrics, financed by a new public bank.”
As the afternoon sun danced in the courtyard fountain of the Audubon Center at Debs Park, 60 movement leaders from across the city—and from a sparkling spectrum of causes—gathered to share their wildest dreams of a different Los Angeles. This was the founding meeting of a new coalition, gathered to draft a document called the “L.A. Leap Manifesto”: a vision for a carbon-free city by 2025. Over two days, a clear picture emerged of a city that values all of its residents, as well as the natural systems—water, soil, air—that we all depend upon to thrive. No one and no place to be treated as disposable.