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Algorithms of Late-Capitalism Issue 3: Minorities Report

Adriaan Odendaal
Jul 2, 2020 · 5 min read

internet teapot presents the third issue of the Algorithms of Late-Capitalism zine: Minorities Report — Speculative Subversions

by Adriaan Odendaal & Karla Zavala

This month has been filled with an overwhelming amount of events that illustrate how state surveillance, systemic racism, and machine-learning technology are increasingly (and often, catastrophically) intersecting. Smartphone tracking of #BlackLivesMatter protesters; widespread backlash against Silicon Valley’s technological collaboration with law enforcement; and the proposed bill banning the use of facial recognition technology by law enforcement in the US. It is against this backdrop, and countless other preceding events, that internet teapot presents the third issue of the Algorithms of Late Capitalism zine: Minorities Report — Speculative Subversions.

This zine is the result of collaborators from the Design Justice course at the Humboldt University of Berlin who came together over a 2-hour Zoom workshop. Together they contributed with provocative, fascinating, speculative, and critical examinations of the role technology plays in surveilling, monitoring, controlling and subjugating minorities, vulnerable populations, and others.

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🤖 You can download the digital edition of Issue 3 here 🤖
🤖 You can download the epub edition of Issue 3 here 🤖
🤖 You can download the print-ready edition of Issue 3 here (CC BY 2.0) 🤖

Minorities Report

This issue of Algorithms of Late-Capitalism takes its central theme from Philip K. Dick’s (and later Steven Spielberg) dis/utopian future where an omniscient techno-judicial system of ‘precogs’ predicts, and thus prevents, ‘future crimes’ from happening. In our own time, such behaviorally-predictive state apparatuses have seemingly become reality with the wide-spread deployment of machine-learning technologies within law enforcement, criminal justice, credit-scoring, immigration, and a range of other social and state institutions and systems.

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Technically inscrutable and ‘almighty’ machine-learning or ‘AI’ algorithms are doing the predictive work of Philip K. Dick’s precogs throughout our societies. And like the ‘precogs’, any such predictive system contains within itself the potential for wrongful persecution, prosecution, and even malignant misuse. This occurs because technology always inadvertently manifests worldviews — through its coded logic it can perpetuate institutionalized racism, enact morality policing, perpetuate political agendas, or re-enforce social stigmas. And it is usually those already oppressed or repressed in our societies — minorities, immigrants, and vulnerable populations — that bear the brunt of new force-multiplying technological systems of social surveillance and control. Yet AI’s non-corporeal omnipresence makes it much more pervasive and all-encompassing than any ‘precog’ could ever be, as these technologies are now seemingly always there running in the background without our knowledge.

Speculative Subversions

Technology can, however, also be turned against systems of oppression. In its subtitle Speculative Subversions, this zine issue also takes inspiration from Philip K. Dick in terms of imagining alternative futures. Designing speculative futures as an exercise of reflection on existing technologies can allow us to (re)imagine our technological present. How can we create an algorithmic-literate society through the design of the technology itself? How can technologies be re-developed, re-deployed, or appropriated to inversely empower those who are already oppressed? How can the hypervisible be made invisible? How can the opaque be made transparent? How can technologies for social control become technologies for social inclusion?

Technologies shape our social experiences and practices, mediating our interaction with the world. The reflective space created by asking the above questions can help us situate design as a highly responsible activity where the socio-cultural effects of technologies can be imagined for a better future, and present.

Design Justice Zoom Workshop

Due to the ongoing global pandemic, we had the opportunity to do this workshop (again) in an experimental online format — this time over Zoom. The workshop consisted of 12 participants from the Design Justice course at Humboldt University of Berlin co-creating a single zine by each contributing a single page or page-spread.

The event was structured as a workshop where each participant’s contribution would comprise a speculative, design, or creative response or interrogation to a socio-technical issue or problem related to the above editorial prompt we set out for Minorities Report — Speculative Subversions.

Participants were supplied with 2 folders of repurposable content from the Algorithms of Late Capitalism blog:

  1. Specific cases/examples of the problematic uses of technology to form the basis of their contribution.
  2. Examples of technological/speculative/design responses to serve as inspiration or repurposable ideas for their contribution.
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Speculative Design

The emphasis on speculative design throughout the workshop comes from Dunne & Raby’s writing on how this reflective design method can be seen as “a critical medium for exploring the implications of new developments in science and technology” (Dunne & Raby, 2013). Speculative design thus provides an optimal scenario for designing new possibilities for “how things could be”, starting by asking a “what-if question”, which “opens up spaces of debate and discussion” (Dunne & Raby, 2013). The fact that this methodology has a fictional nature does not, however, imply that it consequently has no application in the real world. Instead, it can be argued that this kind of approach opens up new creative perspectives for solving actual real-world problems.

As many of the participants were social science students, the aim of the workshop was importantly to not be another academic exercise, but rather a more reflexive and practical one. We argued that for students who deal a lot with the abstractions of theory, and the formal process of academic writing, something like zine-making can help them shake all that knowledge in their heads loose and see how it reconfigures if you look at it through another prism. Practical thinking (both zine-making and speculative design) can help us generate a different kind of knowledge, with its own insights, that might feed back into a range of other academic and non-academic practices.

You can find out more about our Algorithms of Late Capitalism workshops here
You can download
Algorithms of Late-Capitalism Issue 1 & Issue 2 here

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