• Technologies Otherwise at STRP | Recap 

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    Posted: 1 May 2024

    On the 11th of April, we hosted STRP Scenario. In line with our year program, Technologies Otherwise, we explored the relationship between inequality and the technological systems we build and live in. The following question guided our discussion: How can we redesign the underlying algorithms of technological systems to address the social and ecological inequalities they propel and sustain?

    We invited Dr Ramon Amaro, Ianis Dobrev and Egór Kraft as guest speakers to help us disentangle the big task captured in this question. In his talk, Dr Amaro combined philosophical thought and psychosocial analysis to speak about racial inequality in contemporary algorithms of computer programming, machine learning, data analysis etc. We are conditioned to distinguish ourselves from others and these algorithms help us to do so. Yet, many of them discriminate against for example people of colour perpetuating systemic racism. Further, according to Dr Amaro and other thinkers, such as Silvia Winter, these algorithms create certain ideas of us, based on the input we provide for them (think of what your social media algorithms think you like) and we are continuously working to become who the algorithms think we are. Yet, the chase often turns into a source of frustration, as we cannot or even do not want to become the algorithmic standard set for us, often rather idealised and normative.
    To set oneself free from the chase to fulfil the algorithmic standards, one needs to understand that, as humans, we constantly evolve and are a process in the making. In real life, there are no algorithmic checkboxes that if all ticked, we will be forever happy and fulfilled. Becoming aware of how the existing algorithms determine who we think we want to be is an important step to freeing oneself from the burden of unmet expectations and looking beyond the algorithmic classifications, such as racial hierarchies.

    The talk of Dr Amaro was followed by artists' presentations of two of the ARTeCHO fellows - Ianis Dobrev and Egór Kraft. Interestingly, Egór also brought into his presentation the idea of understanding how people think. For the artist, technologies such as AI play an important role in understanding our ways of reasoning. Ianis expanded this idea of using AI to incorporate other-than-human intelligences and decentralisation of power within its algorithms that operate our economic system. Ecological crises are at the core of Ianis' Cnidarian Economics project. Since our financial system is already automatised to a significant extent using AI, how about we feed AI with data mirroring other-than-human ways of viewing, understanding and reacting to the world and create a self-governed ecosystem overcoming the inequality of human dominance over other beings?

    With grand ideas behind the work of Dr Amaro and Ianis, Egór presented us, using a few of his projects as examples, practical ideas of how to hack the procedures and pre-designed power structures that operate our energy systems and memory-making processes, to name a few. Egór is in favour of technology and granting it decision-making power. If well-designed, AI can serve as a tool to redirect large quantities of money from sustaining the war to providing humanitarian aid to civil society that suffers from it, as in Egór's project Decentralised Embargo (2022). AI-driven technologies can become decentralised tools that can capture the reality of our world far better than our human eyes, overcome the influence of politically driven media and make the truth more accessible to everyone (see HASHD0X [PROOF OF WAR] 2022).

    Looking back at the question guiding our talk, How can we redesign the underlying algorithms of technological systems to address the social and ecological inequalities they propel and sustain? our guest speakers provided us with various perspectives on how the question could be approached. From a social equality standpoint presented by Ramon and Egór, who proposed a change in the individual way of thinking about how we want to be and found cracks in the existing algorithms to independently document the destruction of the civil living spaces as a consequence of war, respectively. Looking at the ecological crisis, Ianis proposed a way to give agency to other-than-human beings in shaping the way we manage our shared ecosystem at the fundamental level using AI-based automatisation.

    The talks were followed by a discussion with the audience using a fishbowl technique - 4 participants in the inner circle of chairs could talk, while the outer circles followed the discussion silently and could intervene by replacing the person seated. The technique allowed us to create a rhythm that breaks up the division stage/audience, inviting other knowledges to contribute their point of view. During the discussion, we touched upon topics related to education (Why do we not learn how exactly the devices we use work?) and our economic system that benefits from many existing algorithms, such as the drive for ever-increasing financial profits (How do we break free from the capitalist imperatives of economic growth?).

    In our Technologies Otherwise program, we are searching for new technological narratives. We ask ourselves Does technology belong to us? What technology? Which us? The themes of our STRP Scenario - breaking with racial discrimination, hacking the centralised power structures within existing technological systems and non-human-centred ways of organising the global economy - are a great source of inspiration for us. In the coming months, we will be gathering them together with other ideas and eventually presenting them in a publication. Stay tuned!


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