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Invisible Slaves of Automatization

19/03/2019
Furtherfield

This year’s festival of “Mine, yours, ours”(Moje, tvoje, naše) puts emphasis on people who are behind the work performance of machines, literally as well as metaphorically, and without whom the machines cannot perform their work.

Automatization, computerization, robotization, mechanization. Recent studies point out that by 2030 as many as 800 million workers throughout the world will lose their jobs to robots. Predictions that already in six years time robots with artificial intelligence will have replaced more than half of the human workforce, and thereby leave 75 million people unemployed, and that the number of robots that perform work of which humans are capable would double from the current 29%, have flooded web portals.

Questioning the status of work conditioned by the relation between man and machines, and observed from the perspective of contemporary artists, was chosen as the theme of the festival “Mine, yours, ours” carried out by Drugo More, held from the 14th to the 16th of February at the building of Filodrammatica in Rijeka. The international festival “Mine, yours, ours” has for fourteen years in a row by the means of art questioned the topics related to the exchange of goods and knowledge, an exchange that today is conditioned by capital and consequently bereft of all the aspects of a gift economy. Exchange via gifts has been replaced by mechanical work whereby the worker is distanced from the very purpose of the work and thereby doomed to a feeling of purposelessness, while the final product and service remain dehumanized. In a world that is mongering fear about robots taking over human jobs, the curator of the exhibition and moderator of the symposium, Silvio Lorusso, decided to give a new perspective on the topic putting emphasis on the people behind the work of the machines, literally and metaphorically, without whom the machines cannot – work.

Like robots that perform work mechanically and lacking intrinsic motivation, people play the roles of robots through various forms of work. The sequence of actions that we observe on the internet are attributed to the work of machines, ignorant of the fact that human work, hidden on purpose, is behind all the exposed data. A human, according to research by artist Sebastian Schmieg, writes the descriptions of the photos that we find on the internet and we are deceiving ourselves thinking that the descriptions are the product of an automatized system. A group of crowd workers creates the database for recognition of pictures, while the neural network of artificial intelligence is shaped with the help of manual work by a collective of people who choose what the machines will see, and what is to remain unrecognized. The role of human work is crucial to the processes that enable self-driving cars. Researcher and designer Florian Alexander-Schmidt explained how the detailed localization of an object is possible exclusively due to a human workforce, not robots. Digital platforms tend to locate vehicles at a precision rate of 99% and this cannot be achieved by an algorithmic system. Alexander-Schmidt points out that the cheapest workers are employed at servicing the digital platforms, such as those from Venezuela, whose work is hidden behind the magical acronym “AI”.

Artificial intelligence operates thanks to the strength and precision of human intelligence, and workers are the slaves of a system that functions like a computer game, demanding that employees score more and thereby perpetuate a game in which, no matter how high they score, they lose. They lose because a cheap labor force, qualified via automatized training, secretly performs the work that consumers consider a product of automatization, and they remain at insecure workplaces whose existence persists due to risky capital and results in constant change of workplaces – virtual migrations. The market of the internet diminishes the global geography of honorary work, while humans play machines performing jobs exclusively for a salary, turning into an invisible, undefined (robotized) mass employed at unstable workplaces and conditioned by risky capital.

The work performed by humans is considered a product of the work of machines, while machines are often replaced by humans. Entering a relationship, developing a sense of connection, characteristic for the human species, is becoming one of the fields in which robots are developing. Chatrooms and platforms for looking for a partner more and more often include programmed robot profiles that engage in communication and emotional bonding with those who sign up, as reported by the artist Elisa Giardina Papa. Robots replace humans, but this change of identity isn’t recognized by the other human – instead, they see a potential partner. In that sense we can speak about a justified presentiment not only of a loss of workplaces and the current modus operandi of the labor market, but of changes in the way emotional relationships are built as well.

Changes in the development of artificial intelligence (AI), virtual reality (VR), robotics, quantum computers, the internet of things (IoT), 3D printing, nanotechnology, biotechnology and the car industry improve some aspects of human life, but place humanity before social, economic and geopolitical challenges. Sustainability of the internet is entirely dependent on humans since the spare time that humans are ready to use for posting content conditions the survival of web portals, video and music channels and social networks. Giardina Papa explained how the spare time of humans has become the time of unpaid work for the internet. Activities that spare time offers – relaxing, self-realization, healthy spontaneous sleep, have been replaced with the production of content for others and posting it on the internet. Creativity, productivity, self-realization are falling into oblivion. Creative work has been replaced by plain performance and we identify more and more often with the byword which the artist Giardina Papa brought up as an example and are becoming “doers, not dreamers”.

Such an approach to life and work affects everybody, and is consciously looked on as a problem by artists in their attempts at a good-quality creative life. The average artists spend their days trapped doing jobs of stocking up shelves in stores, taking in orders, working for telecommunications operators and only at night devote themselves to acting, dancing, painting. Constant financial instability, insecure and temporary jobs, low income, unregistered work and an absence of pension are the conditions of life that the contemporary artist faces. A few European countries are an exception from this. Denmark awards 275 artists an annual scholarship that amounts to between 15000 and 149000 Danish krones. France made sure that every region secures a certain amount of financial support for artists and therefore in for example the region of Ile-de-France are recipients of up to 7628,47 euros for the organization of their workshops. Unfortunately, in most countries artists without rich parents or benefactors can only survive by performing daily work. While spare time is subordinate to work, work is becoming more and more precarious, per hour, without contracts, while full day work time is becoming the lifestyle of the millenium. A way of life where spare time is spent working, subordinated to a mechanical execution of tasks that don’t foster the self-development of the worker, makes man function in a way characteristic of machines.

The individual aspect exposes it’s intimacy in front of a collective audience and thereby diminishes it’s own independence. Simultaneously, via the intrusion of the private into the public, the collective character of the public now becomes more individualized, more personal and strives to be unique. Faced with changes artists are trying out new ways of expressing themselves as a means of enjoying their work. The joy in their work and their artworks stems from the recognition that their activities are actually creative and not plain performance, that is, mass-producing content for others and suitable to others, and such an approach seldom comes to anyone’s (robotized/artistic) mind anymore. Artists are the ones who in times of computerization of work tend to enjoy their work and work in a way to develop oneself.

We are witnessing processes where work is developing via control of people (crowdsourcing), it is transforming and making people similar to machines, and machines to people and making people’s work the work of machines and vice versa. Man is faced with new challenges at the workplace, and with the focus on securing existential necessities as well as necessities conditioned by the contemporary approach to existence, there is no spare time to devote to questioning the position to which he brought himself to. Artists, equally affected by the changes, succumb to them, but also analyze them, deautomatize them and actively do research on them. The international guests to the festival “Mine, yours, ours” have through their works pulled back the curtain to make the supposedly automatized work transparent for people to see that a well hidden group of humans is behind this work. While explaining the results of their research, preceding the artistic exhibition, at a two-day symposium, they gave the public new perspectives on the theme, but also further corroborated the existing view. Where does the robot begin and where does man end and who or what is to whom or to what a robot, and who or what to whom or to what a human are the questions that, concerning the labor market, pave the way for – a new set of sub-questions.

Jelena Uher