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Workshop 5 Speakers: Political Economy of Robots

Digital Divide 2.0, or the Robot Rift

The term “digital divide” has been used to describe the unequal distribution of and access to computers, the Internet, and information technology across the globe. If, as Bill Gates had predicted in 2008, robots are positioned to be the next world-changing technological innovation, it is likely that these devices and the opportunities they afford human individuals and communities will also be distributed in a way that is anything but equitable. Evidence of this technological socio-economic difference can already be seen with data concerning the adoption and penetration of robotic technology, AI applications, and algorithms. This paper defines, characterizes, and investigates the causes and consequences of this this next-gen digital divide—what one could call “digital divide 2.0” or “the robot rift.” In particular, the paper 1) draws on and leverages the decades of experience documenting and addressing the initial digital divide in order to formulate an approach to technological innovation that is attentive to social, political, and economic inequalities; 2) reviews the current state of the robot rift by considering both the magnitude and the characteristics of the gulf that already separates the “robot haves” from the “robot have nots”; 3) examines the way that AI and robotic technologies can both respond to and exacerbate existing socio-economic disparities; and 4) profiles some of the innovative work that is currently being pursued in order to try to get out in front of these social issues before they become a global problem.

David J. Gunkel

David J. Gunkel is an award-winning educator and author, specializing in the philosophy of technology. He is the author of over 70 scholarly articles and has published nine books, including The Machine Question: Critical Perspectives on AI, Robots, and Ethics (MIT Press, 2012), Of Remixology: Ethics and Aesthetics After Remix (MIT Press, 2016), and Robot Rights (MIT Press, 2018). He currently holds the position of Distinguished Teaching Professor in the Department of Communication at Northern Illinois University (USA) and is the founding co-editor of the International Journal of Žižek Studies. More info at gunkelweb.com

The Remixed Self as/and Robot: Algorithmic Remixes and Robotic Ownership

In the prequel to Battlestar Galactica, Caprica (2009), the constitution of a “Cylon” robot is through an algorithmic interpretation of surveillance data. The AI of the robot is discussed as a “perfect copy” of the corporeal subject, created by an assemblage of digital traces - credit card records, social media accounts, electronic medical records, school records, (and more) all algorithmically remixed into the robot “self” of the cylon. This narrative, although fictionalized, parallels current methods of algorithmic interpretation and data collection, constructing digital selves that inhabit, inform, and train our robotic “others.” This paper will 1) Explore layers of human-machine relationship involved in designing computerized systems, teasing out layers of machinic agency in relationship to embedded discriminatory practices; 2) Examine how these systems interoperate and create cybernetic relationships between human and robot, addressing how our robotic counterparts shape further collection of data and interpretation; and 3) Problematize ownership and accessibility of data-influenced robots, robotic data creation, and the futures of the robotic selves in this relationship.

Zachery J. McDowell

Zachary J. McDowell is Assistant Professor of Communication at the University of Illinois at Chicago (USA). His work focuses on access and advocacy in digitally mediated spaces, from gaming, to surveillance, to social media, information policy, data-representations, education, and emerging media trends, focusing on transformative nature of digital media in cultural production. He is co-founder and co-editor of the open access journal communication +1.

LeftTech: The Psychoanalysis of Robots

Innovations in new technology - specifically developments in VR, AR and AI that have become visible in the last three years - work to produce new effects, emotions and sympathies in those who engage with the technology. These new experiences transform the contemporary subject into a new kind of organism which thinks and feels differently when compared to the subjects of the past. As Franco ‘Bifo’ Berardi has put it, human consciousness is ‘mutating’ in the technological age. From the perspective of this paper, it is less important that robots are becoming like humans and more important that human consciousness itself is becoming robotic, without the negative implications of that statement. In short, our transforming affectual plane renders us a new kind of cyborg, which presents as much potential as danger. This paper will address the question of whether psychoanalysis - a discourse for understanding the relationship between affects and subjectivity - will be rendered useless by the cyborgs to come, or whether a new kind of technology-focused psychoanalysis can be a vital tool for navigating the politics of people and robots. While psychoanalysis was borne out of an older model of subjectivity, I present here the start of a manifesto for a newer form of psychoanalysis that can be of great assistance in navigating the technological future for a progressive political agenda. Such an approach, I argue, can help combat the corporate dominance of the robot economy that we are up against today.

Alfie Bown

Alfie Bown is Assistant Professor of Literature at HSMC, Hong Kong. He has written two books on psychoanalysis and technology, Enjoying It: Candy Crush and Capitalism (Zero, 2015) and The Playstation Dreamworld (Polity, 2017) and is now working on a new book on robots and the political Left. He is also the series editor of Everyday Analysis.

Artificial Property: People’s Robots and Robot People

In juridical terms robots are framed as objects, in economic terms as capital (if involved in economic production processes) or as merchandise and consumer item. In any case, robotic things belong to a juridical or natural person, they are someone’s possession. The basic relation of people and robots is regulated as the bundle of rights and duties that characterizes ownership in property law. This paper examines the question who will develop, own, and control robots by following some of the tensions, cracks and fundamental aporias that challenge the existing body of juridical laws when objects acquire faculties that hitherto only have been present in natural persons. Given the end of the device paradigm that marks the beginning epoch of AI in applications of ambient, distributed, networked or ubiquitous computing I focus in particular on intellectual property law and rights (IPRs) that apply for physical and software robots likewise. I will look at cases that represent opposite perspectives: Robots as creators and robots as creations. Along these lines I will discuss recent examples. Looking at the aspects of ownership, access and control of the code of AIs I will draw parallels between debates of “copyleft“ like open source, public access and fair use vs “copyright“ regarding the implications of ownership. I will call for an open debate about the possibility of a balance between the private and the public good in robots and AI within the current political economic regime and argue for a change.

Peter Rantaša

Peter Rantaša is Doctoral Student at the University of Vienna and member of the research group of the Chair Philosophy of Technology and Media led by Mark Coeckelbergh. He currently works on his PhD thesis on Voice in Humans and Talking Machines. He is also Coordinator at the Cognitive Science Research Platform based at the University of Vienna and has a professional international background in arts, cultural management, creative industries and advocacy thereof. He studied Cognitive Science and is a practical trainied engineer ("Ingenieur", state certified engineer in "Nachrichtentechnik, Elektronik und biomedizinische Technik").

On the Genealogy of Morals of Robots

The immediate post-war decades were characterised by optimism about exponential economic growth, consumer luxury, and fast-advancing automation technology; often echoing the utopian predictions of J.M. Keynes’ ‘Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren’ (1930) of a world free from conventional work. This culture also stimulated a sceptical ‘moral’ tradition of thinkers addressing the implications of such radical change to our lives. ‘Moral’, that is, not in terms of what treatment we owe to future robots, but as concerns the effect the new luxury and idleness they are supposed to bring will have on us. A sketch of this tradition might include such figures as Richard Hoggart, Anthony Crosland, J.K. Galbraith, and the late work of F.R. Leavis. Today, we see each of the utopian anticipations of the 50s and 60s turned inside out. Economic growth has had its connection to living standards severed; consumer goods depend on a culture of personal debt, not to mention a violent system of globally exploitative manufacture; and automation and digital technology seem to offer only the unaccountable power of tech companies over our daily lives in the present, and the prospect of mass unemployment in the future. Suffice to say, the return of automation as a crucial cultural issue in the past decade or so has not yet stimulated a ‘moral’ culture of interrogative thought such as the post-war version did. In this paper, I look to disinter some of these earlier thinkers to ask what use they might be to a ‘genealogy of morals of robots’ today.

James A. Smith

J.A. Smith is a scholar of literature and politics. His doctoral research was on the theory of tragedy from the 18th century to the present, and he has more recently turned that training in critical theory to contemporary questions of populism, ‘desire’ in politics and the online sphere, and the future of work. His work has been cited by Novara Media and the Guardian. Other People’s Politics: Corbyn and the New Populism (Zero Books) and Lifework: The Putting to Work of Everything We Do (Zed Books, with Mareile Pfannebecker) will be published in the coming year.