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Configuring priorities


13 November 2023
This month's topic: Frivolous-PoliticalResident Editor: El Palomar

Configuring priorities

As a proud killjoy, when I’m prompted to write about “frivolous”, I think “what is important and appropriate?” Whatever I write will be considered frivolous by society because I am a poor unemployed racialized trans lesbian woman. It’s a challenge.

All the systemic problems we have are interconnected both in their causes and their effects. Let’s start with the apocalyptic dystopia we are living in. The global scale of destruction we experience through the ecological collapse is a direct outcome of classist racist ableist speciesist cisheteropatriarchy, or as Patricia Hill Collins named it, the matrix of domination. Oppressed subjects of the world suffer the consequences disproportionately, while the richest white cis men are still acting out their fantasies of immortality, conquering nature and colonizing outer space.

What is frivolous is a matter of power. How we personally perceive priorities differ depending on our situatedness in the matrix of domination. It is not a coincidence that all the very stable geniuses leading the hype of artificial intelligence are rich white cis men and their most important critics are women, black and trans*. The “existential risk” posed by the men on top of the A.I. sector could only be posed by those few privileged to not feel negatively affected by what is already happening, which is “existing harm” as Sasha Costanza-Chock calls it. When the dick detector alarm goes off in the airport, our sense of self and all the time we spent reading Judith Butler is rendered frivolous by the machine in power. Binaries are for computers but the computers are in charge.

After World War 2, following the self fulfilling prophecy of the Moore’s Law, transistor count of integrated circuits doubled, roughly, every two years. Meanwhile, global carbon dioxide emissions grew from 4 billion tonnes to 36 billion tonnes per year.

Just around the time of the dot-com bubble, millions of people were killed in “world’s deadliest documented conflict since WW2” in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where rare earth minerals critical for computer production like coltan and cobalt are mined. The war never ended in the DRC, but it’s almost never on the news. Today, 70% of global cobalt production comes from the DRC, where more than 80% of people still don’t have internet connection, clearly, the digital revolution didn’t benefit them.

Everyone is harmed by the A.I. hype, from cobalt miners in Congo to assembly workers in China, people all over the world whose data is exploited to feed the datasets, those that get targeted by discriminatory punitive algorithms and the ghost workers trapped in the machine. What we get in the end is not artificial and not even intelligent, as Kate Crawford puts it. Large language models like ChatGPT can mansplain and gaslight, and this causes harm because people confuse it with intelligence. Pointing out these basic facts can get A.I. ethicists like Timnit Gebru and all her team fired from Google, because Google has to compete with Microsoft in the market share of authority.

In January 2023 Microsoft fired 10 thousand workers and invested 10 billion $ in ChatGPT. Then they put an even worse idea in production by integrating ChatGPT with their search engine, which automatically affected hundreds of millions of people because their operating systems are owned by Microsoft and integrated with their search engine. And Microsoft did report 20 billion $ in profit that quarter but that profit didn’t come from ChatGPT, which generates financial loss because it’s a free service that has a cost (estimated around a million $ per day) that has to be subsidized. That doesn’t make sense even in terms of capitalism. Neither does business models of Google, Facebook, etc. It’s as if the tendency of the rate of profit to fall passed a critical limit and capitalism lost its dominance but we didn’t get communism either, on the contrary, we’re exploited even more.

McKenzie Wark coined the term vectoralism for our eras dominant mode of production. The hacker class produces information but the vectoralist class exploits what we produce because they own the vectors of information, the infrastructure, the cloud. In this true dystopia, oppressed working classes depend on mobile internet connection for survival in precarity while 99% of smartphone operating systems belong to Google and Apple. They use our alienated information against us, for surveillance, ideological propaganda and psychological operations, barely concealed as advertisement. Vectoralist classism intersects with racism, sexism and other oppressions too. For example, 6 out of 6 people wrongfully arrested based on a facial recognition system were black (one of them was a pregnant woman); and period tracking apps share data with states that banned abortion (Facebook got a teen girl and her mother imprisoned for using abortion pills).

Stereotype of the hacker as an antisocial white cis man was created by vectoralism and the selfish competitiveness of the hacker culture is only benefiting the vectoralist class. Sysadmins, network engineers, infosec specialists, programmers and designers should realize that they are part of the same class with people who don’t know any computer science but also can’t live without a smartphone. Majority of the world population are cyborg hackers with connected supercomputers in our hands but we are not free. We must create hacker class equivalents of unions, cooperatives and political organizations. Hacklabs have to become sites of popular education and communal infrastructure. To reach critical mass we need hacker class consciousness, which has to be raised as a part of intersectional feminism. If this class composition of hackers understand our common interests, we can fulfill our revolutionary emancipatory potential. Only if society could actually listen to a trans woman for once.

Remember when Space Karen bought Twitter, we made fun of him because he paid much more than what the company was valued and almost immediately lost half of the company revenue. It was hilarious to watch this idiot lose billions of $, such epic fail. We needed jokes to chill the rage. He lost 100 billion $ in a year, enough money to feed all the starving people and what’s left could build a sustainable infrastructure, but instead it was given to an individual white cis men and he lost it on a whim. What can be more frivolous than that?

If you consider that under vectoralism information is more powerful than money, he didn’t even lose anything, he just converted his money into more power over society. He’s fooling the liberals by selling his cars as ecological (while Tesla consumes roughly half of world’s lithium) and he’s fooling the conservatives by selling his cars as autonomous. Just think of the information asymmetry between the guys who buys Teslas thinking this will make them more autonomous, and the guy who actually owns the servers controlling all those cars. He’s still an idiot because he depends on the Earth that he’s destroying and he’s not gonna make it to Mars.

It’s a shame that society works for these men who destroy the Earth. We should be rioting just over the fact that companies like Microsoft, Google or X don’t even have to report on the electricity costs of their data centers or the amount of water they waste to cool their servers. Most people don’t know that they don’t have this information, so they don’t care. The asymmetry of information is leading us to extinction.

As Luce deLire wrote: “A proper final statement is above my pay rate.” I’ll just say that I’m one of those that believe the guillotine is too nice. What would be harder for Space Karens of the world is if they actually had to work for their lives, while no one paid them any attention, let alone giving them a helping hand. Don’t feed the troll. Don’t feed the A.I. Feed your head.

Ai Carmela Netîrk, anarcha feminist, lo-femme, transbian, cyborg, hacker, migrant, housewife, writer, historian, historiographer, videographer, editor, livestreamer, vision mixer, system administrator. Currently part of Systerserver and Feminist Ninja:

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