Politics of Algorithmic Life

From P2P Foundation
Jump to navigation Jump to search

* Special Issue: -The Social Life of Robots: The Politics of Algorithmic Life, Governance, and Sovereignty. Ed. by Del Casino Jr., V., House-Peters, L., Crampton, J., and Gerhardt, H. ANTIPODE SPECIAL ISSUE.

URL = https://www.academia.edu/52221372/The_Social_Life_of_Robots_The_Politics_of_Algorithms_Governance_and_Sovereignty?email_work_card=view-paper


From the Introduction:

"This special issue emerges out of an ongoing set of conversations amongst geographers who have been increasingly thinking about how human and more-than-human relations with robots and robotic technologies are reworking the socio-spatial dimensions of our lives. This special issue takes one cut at this concern. The four papers included explore how the rapidly changing, and increasingly networked, world of robots and robotic technology development is shifting and disrupting geographic imaginaries and everyday social, cultural, and ecological practices. Here, the terrain of robots and robotics is interpreted broadly to consist of the hardware and software that can be found in the materialities of robot bodies, and the algorithmic logics and machine learning capacities of new emerging digital technologies. Geographers have produced ground-breaking work interrogating what robots and robotic technologies mean for discipline, surveillance, and security in the 21st century (e.g., Amoore and Raley 2016), and how these technologies may “travel” from hubs to sites of application (e.g., McDuie-Ra and Gulson 2019).This special issue takes as its point of departure the role of these technologies and their associated materialities in making and remaking the structures, conditions, and relations of everyday life. It is important to note that this body of work on robots and robotic technologies is partially related to but also parallels the recent wave of attention to and growth of geographic research produced through, by, and of the digital, what Ash, Kitchin, and Leszczynski (2018) have termed a critical ‘digital turn’ in geography. This turn has focused on questions of smart cities (Datta2015), digital media and communication (Adams 2017), the security state (Shaw 2013, 2016,2017), and the automation of environmental conservation (Arts et al. 2015; Adams 2017), writ large. It does less, though, to think through the reimagination of human-nonhuman relations, subjectivities, and potentialities that come to be possible in a world already populated by robotic possibilities. It also shies away from fully interrogating the ways in which these relations are altering meanings of the concept of human intelligence or cognition."

From the Conclusion:

"This special issue aims to broaden the way scholars theorize and empirically treat the increasingly complex relationships between robots and social life, especially in the context of our historically anthropocentric human geographies. The authors of this special issue engage a range of diverse epistemological, ontological, and methodological commitments, but all in some way address the power dynamics and shifting political economies involved in human-robotic interactions as well as possibilities for resisting and overcoming particular forms of domination and oppression. At the same time, the papers present new avenues for conceptualizing the rise of robots and robotics and the everyday socio-spatial relations of contemporary algorithmic life. In a rapidly evolving present and future, where life is increasingly managed in relation to algorithmic imaginaries and automated fantasies, these papers demonstrate the potential for geographers to make significant interventions and contributions to reveal the limits, contradictions, and messy contingencies of socio-technical assemblages, to trace the shifting spatialities and temporalities of the geographies of algorithmic governance, and to envision radical democratic, post-capitalist, emancipatory alternatives. These futures are unlikely to be “robot free,” so the question remains how will we build a future set of geographies that acknowledges this reality while also claiming space for the diverse and rich expansion of all forms of life, but human and non-human."


"Richardson’s paper elucidates a facet of everyday algorithmic life through an intimate analysis of how socio-economic arrangements come to produce and be produced through the automated coordination of food delivery. An auto-ethnographic examination of the UK food delivery company Deliveroo is used to show how technological platforms are more than just interface and algorithm as they give rise to, and become part of, specific socio-spatial and temporal configurations. Richardson argues that the market that the Deliveroo platform is helping to create is doing more than simply mediating supply and demand. Rather, the market is a form of“ agencement,” constantly made and remade via the many contingent interactions of the various moving parts. In this sense the platform makes up a critical element within an emergent, flexible market that enables and constrains subject interactions, which, in turn, results in new geographical expressions. By decentering the interface and seeking to widen the lens of analysis, Richardson focuses attention on the processes of making calculable each step and interaction of a Deliveroo journey. The Deliveroo platform is posited as a component of a larger, more complex articulation of various subjects and objects, including customers, restaurant workers, drivers, and the actual food. Here the dynamics of calculation, flexibility, and contingency come into direct relation, and at times conflict, with the accelerated temporalities of “on-demand” consumption culture. Richardson’s analysis illustrates how processes of calculation produce contingency, rather than resolving it, revealing how contingencies are inherent to the algorithmic calculation of goods and services via markets negotiated through platform technology. Attending to points of interaction conducted by specific human and more-than-human nodes in automated networks, such as the meeting of restaurant staff with delivery riders, Richardson challenges a straightforward understanding of automation, instead providing a theorization of the orchestration of calculation, a performance that she argues is always marked by contingency and thus capable of enabling new networks and configurations. Lockhart and Marvin’s paper examines the political economy, imaginaries, and limits of automated environmentally controlled interior spaces. Drawing on case studies from three different experiments in environmental control in Sheffield, England, the authors demonstrate the limits and contradictions of automating ecological processes, where the reality of the need for human interventions, and the attendant labor entailed and contingencies introduced, contradicts the imaginary of “pure” automation. Their analysis excavates the hidden energy and labor that are central to, but often obfuscated by, the relations of automation. Lockhart and Marvin’s empirical analysis demonstrates that the idealized reproduction of conditions of interior climatic stability elides more porous relations between the boundaries of inside and outside, and reveals the flows that transgress these boundaries.

Drawing into conversation scholarship on automation, political ecology and urban political economy, Lockhart and Marvin challenge the potential for designing utopian “inside” environments as a response to and solution for managing turbulent “outside” environments and the problems of accumulation, reproduction, and ecological control associated with our Anthropocene present. Rather, difficulties abound in the aspiration to utilize technology and robotic automation to create the ideal, controlled interior environment, in response to a challenging, uncontrollable exterior environment. Through the case studies explored, controlled indoor ecologies are exposed as complicated socio-technological-ecological assemblages shot through with contradictions and rarely surrendering to desires of automation, optimization, and simplification. Lynch’s paper moves beyond the standard critique of the smart city as an expression of techno-capitalism by considering how locally rooted, open sourced digital technology may enable “alternative”, counter-capitalist forms of organization of urban life. One of these emergent forms is the technology sovereignty (TS) movement in Barcelona, a decentralized, grassroots network that seeks local, democratic control over the “vital systems and infrastructure of everyday life”. Lynch frames this movement within a conceptualization of alternative economic practices and radical relations of care, in which technology - inclusive of infrastructure, code, and data - is viewed as a common good whose governance should be transparent, shared, and democratically administered. Here sovereignty takes as its object the struggle for control over digital information and technological development based on “building community-based technological systems and services with social objectives.” In the specific context of technological sovereignty in Barcelona, activists trace a direct link to the food sovereignty movement and other local movements to reclaim control over production and distribution systems vital for everyday life. Here the logic of sovereignty are conceptualized as distinct from in juxtaposition to logics of securitization, which have served to erode, rather than amplify community control over vital systems. Lynch advances theorization at the intersection of the smart city and processes of digitalization to engage a prefigurative politics of urban geography. One that highlights the possibilities and potentials for the emergence of alternative, counter-hegemonic socio-technical relations in the context of algorithmic life in a contemporary smart city. Lynch’s introduction and formulation of technological sovereignty provides a specific language and set of relational practices for challenging the private sector’s continued dominance in digital technology development and implementation. This innovation not only challenges traditional smart city approaches to algorithmic urban governance, but presents a vision for an alternative post-capitalist digital future that reimagines socio-spatial and political-economic arrangements of work, property, production, and consumption in the urban sphere.

Gerhardt’s paper uses the case of an emergent, technologically mediated peer-to-peer (P2P)economy and Collaborative Commons movement to make the case for a “non-flat” (i.e. trans-local) ontological outlook within anarchist approaches to achieving a post-capitalist society. Open-sourced, peer-to-peer digital code and content are here hypothesized as facilitating diminishing marginal costs, giving rise to a nascent, counter-capitalist mode of production. Gerhardt argues that for such a mode of production to blossom requires addressing the emergent, geographically expansive forces that manage to reign in the many prefigurative, counter-capitalist practices that the peer-to-peer economy and movement give rise to. In this intervention, Gerhardt draws on the alternative economic examples of “fair copy,” a community centered copyleft arrangement, and “faircoin,” a counter-capitalist crypto currency, to illustrate efforts that recognize the need to tackle macro-level assemblages. These cases present a vision for a transition to a post-capitalist world that centers an alternative, collaborative mode of production, where fair reciprocity arrangements replace extractive and exploitative relations and commitments to use value displace exchange value priorities. Gerhardt also invokes the concept of assemblage, here drawing on Deleuze and Guattari’s formulation, in his approach to understanding technology’s role in producing, resisting, and transgressing socio-spatial relations. The assemblage framework, he argues, allows for taking “into account the malleable agency of technology”, rather than the more common approaches that either ignore it or see it as “overly rigid in its positive or negative causality.” Thus technology, understood through this lens of flexibility and malleability, poses possibilities for subversion, adaptation, cooptation, and mutualism that are generative of alternative presents and futures beyond the logics of capitalism."