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futuribile / curating futures - Issue #13 - #TheseViolentDelightsHaveViolentEnds

futuribile / curating futures
futuribile / curating futures - Issue #13 - #TheseViolentDelightsHaveViolentEnds
By Marta Arniani • Issue #13 • View online
The old school auction house world is experiencing a good dose of transgression. First, the Banksy’s self-destructing artwork at Sotheby’s. Next week, the first ever auction sale of an AI generated artwork at Christie’s (that I always pictured as a glitch between Marie Antoniette and the Queen of England). The portrait of Edmond Belamy (see picture below) has been created by the French collective Obvious, which used a generative adversarial network fed with a data set of 15000 portraits painted between the 14th and 20th century.
Is it the end of the artist or the birth of the uber-artist, a multidimention fictional persona conveying the message of many? The portrait is an AI product launched in the art world, so it opens up naturally speculations around authorship: ‘If the artist is the one that creates the image, then that would be the machine,’ says Caselles-Dupré from the collective. ‘If the artist is the one that holds the vision and wants to share the message, then that would be us.’ In the tech world, where it is rarely question of who produced a certain result utilising AI (complete depersonalisation) the concept of authorship is interpreted merely as responsibility: AI did it, and people - in case - are responsible for disasters.
Art questions the assumed autonomy of AI artifacts, and the value of innate objectivity that we attribute to tech creations. It does so because there are fields of human activity and intelligence that we have no cultural resistance to give away to tech; others, that we associate with soft attributes like genius, creativity, psycology, are harder to consider tasks, although that’s what they are for AI. To an algorithm, producing a fine portrait or an estimation of the likeliness for a certain set of population to go to university, is exactly the same. Only in the first case we argue whether AI has some merit.
Anyway, posterity will judge. For the moment, we have to admit that Edmond looks like a car crash.
Marta Arniani
PS: anyone in Brussels 22-24 October?

Portrait of Edmond Belamy
Portrait of Edmond Belamy
The human game
A well-known example of how ready we are to believe in technology miracles is the 18th century hoax of the “Mechanical Turk”, a fake chess-playing machine which fooled an international audience for more than 80 years: it was in fact a mechanical illusion that allowed a human chess master hiding inside to operate the machine.
Ironically, Amazon’s underpaid work marketplace is called the Mechanical Turk. The homepage is quite grotesque: “Businesses or developers needing tasks done (called Human Intelligence Tasks or “HITs”) can use the robust MTurk API to access thousands of high quality, global, on-demand Workers (…) MTurk enables developers and businesses to achieve their goals more quickly and at a lower cost than was previously possible”. Santé. 🥂
Astra Taylor, the author of The People’s Platform: Taking Back Power and Culture in the Digital Age, walks us through the Automation charade and the concept of “fauxtomation”, the idea that we tend not to acknowledge the hidden low-paid jobs behind every supposed magic automation:
Amazon’s cheeky slogan—“artificial artificial intelligence”—acknowledges that there are still plenty of things egregiously underpaid people do better than robots.
The phrase “robots are taking our jobs” gives technology agency it doesn’t (yet?) possess, whereas “capitalists are making targeted investments in robots designed to weaken and replace human workers so they can get even richer” is less catchy but more accurate.
Low-wage human work is an essential component of digital services: if we are not bombed by violent images while surfing the Web, it is mainly because somebody in the Philippines has seen them while executing a content moderation task. While this category of workers struggles not only with remuneration, but also with psycological recovery, there are people who actually love to watch others die:
The people in the videos and GIFs shared on Watch People Die do not merely die. Neither do they pass away (too polite), nor go to a better place (too peaceful). They are beheaded, incinerated, exploded, crushed, electrocuted, drowned, mangled, stoned and disemboweled. And their deaths, horrific and tragic as they are, can be watched by anyone with internet access, over and over again.
S01E02 Dolores Abernathy
S01E02 Dolores Abernathy
The many faces of surveillance
A German activist got a passport using a false picture merging her face and Francesca Mogherini’s (High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy). The action is part of Mask ID,” a campaign that’s encouraging ordinary citizens to “flood government databases with misinformation” and disrupt mass surveillance programs. This “hack the system” project is funded by the Bundeskulturstiftung, the German Federal cultural fund. 🤘
This long-read argues that current debates about facial-recognition software and its use in surveillance are a revamp of physiognomy:
What gives us the creeps looking back at 19th-century techniques of facial analysis isn’t how well they interpreted broad-backed noses, but the legitimacy they conferred on the attempt to do so. Facial recognition raises the same question: What are the ethical and political stakes in thinking that our faces can be read in certain ways?
The very problem of biometric databases and technologies is that they are centralised. Imagine Hitler had facial recognition… This piece tackles the topic under the digital ID lens, pushing to advocate for the principles of data minimization, decentralization, consent, and limited access that reinforce our fundamental rights. It also made me discover Necessary and Proportionate, the “International Principles on the Application of Human Rights to Communications Surveillance”.
The thing is, surveillance tech is incredibly cheap. According to the Yale Law Journal, the cost of location tracking dropped from $105/hour to $0.36/hour when the portable GPS was invented, and then fell to to $0.04/hour at most when smartphone GPS became roughly equivalent to professional receivers (EU data). I really recommend this reportage about how a Minnesota family business of soda vending machines became a surveillance empire.
... Meanwhile, in profiling wonderland
A very well designed article about China’s surveillance system.
There is a “little” technology cold war in place between US and China, especially after that Bloomberg has unveiled that 30 US corporations (Amazon and Apple included) were spied through microchips nested on the motherboards of servers assembled in China. Here you have a good recap of how China has been wielding power over Western corporations, to the point of becoming a national security threat, being a key investor in the Silicon Valley and do annoying things like buying very important IP rights (the formula for the white pigment that goes into Oreo stuffing? Chinese). The big takeaway:
In other words, restructuring the Western corporate commons so it cannot be exploited by bad actors is one of the key national security challenges of our era. Either way, it’s clear that the era of strong private corporate power is over. (…) The only question is whether the public power that assumes control of Western corporations, and thus Western society, is American or Chinese.
On the same page, a recent cover story of the Economist was dedicated to China’s massive investments in Europe. Some facts and data:
  • Chinese actors in Europe are usually state-backed firms and investment funds, which, according to an analysis by Bloomberg, represented 63% of deals by value in the decade to 2018.
  • Particular focuses have been energy, chemicals and infrastructure.
  • Chinese outfits now own most or all of Syngenta, a big Swiss pesticide producer; the Port of Piraeus, Greece’s biggest; and Hinkley Point C, a British nuclear power station. Airports like London’s Heathrow, Frankfurt Hahn and Toulouse have sizeable Chinese ownership. So do PSA Group, maker of Peugeot and Citroën cars, and Pirelli, the Italian tyremaker.
So where China once considered the EU a prospective partner and even a model in some areas, now it approaches Europe with less respect—as a sort of supermarket of opportunities to extract benefits that can help it rise, neutralise opposition to its foreign policy and keep the West from acting as one against it.
OK, but what makes the Chinese such good players? Venture capitalist and ex Google China Head Kai-Fu Lee argues that WeChat laid the groundwork for AI strength in China:
WeChat basically helps many startups get going. They became the entry point for shared bicycles, shared vehicles, take out orders, and for paying loans, borrowing money, paying taxes and paying utilities. Everything was done there. It became a hub. It changed users’ habits to depend more on mobile computing and depositing more of their data, therefore enabling WeChat and other companies to be a part of this AI movement.
Simply put, Chinese payment giants are giant. Alipay and WeChat pay handled each more payments in a single month this year than PayPal’s $451 billion for the whole of 2017.
Blockchain ta mère
No longer confined to research labs and white coats, genomics is definitely gaining traction as a business and policy hot topic. I have already covered in issue #2 the fact that Dubai is building a national genetic databank with the aim to prevent genetic diseases; In Europe, 18 nations have signed a joint declaration for delivering cross-border access to their genomic information, with the aim to understand and prevent diseases, as well as allow for more personalised treatments (and targeted drug prescription), in particular for rare diseases, cancer and brain related diseases. The target is at least 1 million sequenced genomes accessible in the EU by 2022.
But: to which extent these DNA databases are inclusive? Not much, it seems.
The management of all these data will be of course crucial. And people are jumping on the bandwagon. The Russian non-profit Zenome has launched the beta version of the first decentralized ‘genomic internet’, which promises to store and handle data securely and allow service providers to build a marketplace for genomics. As LaBioTech reports, two of the most advanced companies applying blockchain to genomics are US-based Luna DNA and Nebula Genomics, which accordingly to Zenome’s founder have “almost completely copied” the Russian genomic marketplace concept. Both companies claim to be the world’s first and largest market place of DNA information for research, but Luna DNA states that the database is community-owned. My 2 cents, narratives are important.
Euthanasia is a dish best served cold
David Byttow
As a tech lead and an original founding member of Google+, my only thought on Google sunsetting it is... FINALLY.
Back to the future
Bentonville UP was the place to be: a secret conference with people from all over the world plotting to build flying cars.
Say hi to the world-first brain-to-brain network, BrainNet, which allows a small group to play a collaborative Tetris-like game. “Our results raise the possibility of future brain-to-brain interfaces that enable cooperative problem-solving by humans using a ‘social network’ of connected brains,” say the developers at the University of Washington in Seattle.
Biomimicry: a compilation of animal-inspired robots. For those based in Paris: seems an interesting event on the topic. 🐙
Oh, dear!
The European Parliament is not immune to sexual harassment. To the extent that a #MeToo MP group has just been created, sharing stories of ordinary pressure.
First World Problems - Out while Amazon delivery arrives? No problem, put everything in my remotely controlled Tesla.
First World Problems - Out while Amazon delivery arrives? No problem, put everything in my remotely controlled Tesla.
That’s all, thanks for reading! Spread the word if you enjoyed, hit answer for getting directly in touch.
Marta Arniani
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Marta Arniani

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