AI and visual ramifications of the crisis

Among the countless troubling aspects of the Covid-19 crisis is the liberating effect it has on AI-based surveillance technologies and policies. Not only does the crisis provide unprecedented opportunities for data extracting tech giants to expand their reach and power. It also enhances the ongoing transformation of global capitalism into a huge, democratically ungovernable laboratory. To a considerable extent, this is also a laboratory of vision, visuality, visualization. For one, there is the variety of infographics, dashboards etc. mentioned in an earlier post.

These maps, diagrams and statistics may enable citizens’ capacities of “reading” the crisis (probably the most influential image by now being the flattened bell curve indicating a possible slowing down of the infection rates), but they also are peculiarly paralyzing. For, ultimately, they remain the very ciphers of authority they have always been.

In another, yet directly related dimension of visual politics dwell the devices to track the infection by controlling/invading individual and group behaviour. “Clearview AI” is the telling, Orwellian name of a particularly shady, privacy-violating facial recognition software firm, deployed in the attempts to control the virus. TH

One more obvious problem is media’s usage of the terrifying 3D art based on microscope images of the coronavirus (such as image by Joao Paulo Burini above, used in the article linked here); the battlestar iconography is a safe bet for those interested in engendering “primal” fears and deep anxieties and thus adds to a feeling of helplessness and passivity that is to be contested. TH

March 15th, 2020 — Rosa Mercedes / 02

On Friday, April 6, 2021, at 8 p.m., Akademie Schloss Solitude will host a Zoom event with former HaFI Residency fellowship holder Shirin Barghnavard about her film “Invisible” (2017). Moderated by Doreen Mende. To register, click here.

April 14th, 2021

The magazine MONOPOL currently features an interview (in German) with Shirin Barghnavard about her film “Invisible,” which she conceived and shot during her HaFI residency in 2017.

April 14th, 2021

via Hyperallergic on the environmental impact of blockchain referring to recent NFT (non-fungible token) art sales: “This is not the first time the art world has come under scrutiny for being on the wrong side of the climate conversation. Artists and activists have protested everything from the carbon footprint of physical art fairs to the fossil fuel money funding major museums. But some say the energy consumption of cryptocurrencies is particularly egregious, and research shows it’s relatively easily quantifiable. A study by Cambridge University, for instance, estimates that bitcoin uses more electricity per year than the entire nation of Argentina. (Ethereum mining consumes a quarter to half of what Bitcoin mining does, but one transaction uses more power than an average US household in a day, according to the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.)”


Nicholas Mirzoeff on “Artificial vision, white space and racial surveillance capitalism”: “Based as it is on ‘epidermalization’ (the assertion of absolute difference based on relative differences in skin color), AI’s racial surveillance deploys an all-too-familiar racialized way of seeing operating at plan-etary scale. It is the plantation future we are now living in. All such operations take place in and via the new imagined white space of technology known as the cloud. In reality, a very material arrangement of servers and cables, the cloud is both an engine of high-return low-employment capitalism and one of the prime drivers of carbon emissions.”


Sara Ahmed on the performativity of disgust (from The Cultural Politics of Emotion, 2004): “To name something as disgusting is to transfer the stickiness of the word ‘disgust’ to an object, which henceforth becomes generated as the very thing that is spoken. The relationship between the stickiness of the sign and the stickiness of the object is crucial to the performativity of disgust as well as the apparent resistance of disgust reactions to ‘newness’ in terms of the generation of different kinds of objects. The object that is generated as a disgusting (bad) object through the speech act comes to stick. It becomes sticky and acquires a fetish quality, which then engenders its own effects.”

November 7th, 2020
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