CfP: Silent Works. Hidden human labor in AI-driven capitalism

Call for papers, deadline 30 September 2020

This is a call for papers (CfP) dealing with the hidden human labor in
AI-driven capitalism. Curated by Magdalena Taube and Krystian Woznicki,
the series of papers will be published in the Berliner Gazette as part
of the exhibition and conference project SILENT WORKS. Please read the
curators’ statement first, before learning about the details of the CfP

*Curators’ Statement*

COVID-19: A Crisis Of…
In the past 30 years, globalization was underpinned by ideas and laws
that enabled governments to deprioritize the needs of their citizens.
After the financial crisis of 2007-08, this tendency was driven by
‘punishing austerity,’ including ever harsher cutbacks and accelerated
privatization. The COVID-19 pandemic demonstrates the devastating
consequences of these tendencies, especially in the field of health
care. The pandemic reveals that health care can no longer provide a safe
space or shelter. Moreover, it reveals that the neoliberal restructuring
of health care, as a framework for deprioritizing the needs of citizens,
has enabled capital’s requirements to be prioritized. The resulting
‘dehumanizing of capitalism’ paved the way, last but not least, for the
idea that ‘capitalism is an intelligent computer’ — a computer that
turns qualities into quantities, enshrines calculating as the dominant
form of labor, and promotes the idea of self-learning, quasi-autonomous
machines running production and the economy at large. The SILENT WORKS
project explores this system as AI-driven capitalism, thereby expanding
on the already established notion of ‘computational capitalism’ (Beller,
2017). Conceived thus, the current pandemic can be seen as a crisis of
what this very system, coming about as, all of a sudden, the ostensible
frictionlessness of self-running machines has been interrupted and
distorted by an unexpected ‘disruptive factor’: humans, whose
vulnerability (also read: contagiousness) leads to the ‘shutdown of the
system’ and thus to the suspension of capitalism’s ‘incessant circulation.’

Whose Invisible Hand?
The current crisis as a crisis of AI-driven capitalism presents the
limits of the tendency to dehumanization. Hence, we are at a crossroads.
Will governments and corporations take the crisis as an opportunity to
rethink and remake the ‘operating system’ in accordance with human as
well as environmental needs? Or will the shutdown be used for a
radicalization of AI-driven capitalism? Meaning, will the shutdown be
followed by upgraded AI fantasies/technologies as a way to diminish the
risks that vulnerable humans (and environments) could pose to
capitalism? The latter would mean pushing ‘capitalism as a self-running
machine’ further towards independence from humans in general and human
labor in particular. This is why it is high time to publicly address
that this ‘independence’ has – from the outset – been a myth. Meaning:
‘capitalism as a self-running machine’ was never independent of human
labor, but dependent on the devaluation, decomposition, and, ultimately,
dehumanization of labor. Enforcing the belief in the high-tech version
of Adam Smith’s invisible hand enabled the invisibilization of hands
essential to upholding the system: laborers in basic supply (people in
logistics, delivery, and tech work) and in so-called ‘social
reproduction work’ (people in childcare, elder care, and healthcare on
the one hand, and in cleaning, maintenance, and repair on the other). In
other words, while AI was being promoted and mystified, old and new
forms of underacknowledged, undervalued, illegalized, and unwaged labor
have multiplied. In the course of this, a hybridization of old and new
forms of invisibilized labor is underway, for instance, care labor for
‘the new family members’ (machines) in the form of ‘labor of looking’ or
‘labor of updating.’

New Labor Struggles
In all probability, governments aligned with corporations will advance
AI-driven capitalism in one way or another. The reasons for this are
wide-ranging: from the fact that governments, despite ostensibly
shifting their agenda during the COVID-19 pandemic to ‘saving humans,’
remain committed to capitalist priorities, to the fact that tech
industries are emerging during the pandemic as the major driving forces
(be it cloud infrastructure, fintech, or platform-driven services as
varied as online learning and food supply). This said, a radicalization
of AI-driven capitalism would entail a stronger invisibilization of
human work, enabling further devaluating, decomposing, and dehumanizing
labor. This presupposes that ‘we’ consent to being invisibilized as
laborers. But what if we don’t? Could we then become capable of
confounding, contesting and recoding the structures of power to
emancipatory ends — and turning AI-driven capitalism against itself? One
thing seems certain: The more we become aware of how rendering labor
imperceptible consolidates structures of power that continuously
aggravate inequality and injustice, the more we gain a perspective on
how labor could be mobilized from within underacknowledged, undervalued,
illegalized, or unwaged workplaces and against the very structures of
power that are circumscribing them. This could activate the potential of
the growing ‘reserve army’ of workers. After all, if our labor is
indispensable – but presented as disposable and even nonexistent – then
capitalism’s dependency on labor has reached a critical limit. Labor
gains a unique political quality at this limit.

*CfP Details*

The BG provides the SILENT WORKS project with a section in the Internet
newspaper Here, we intend to publish a selection of
reports, essays and interviews throughout 2020. This is an open forum to
which writers, researchers, activists, artists, journalists and all
kinds of other producers of (subjugated) knowledge are invited to
contribute. The required text length is 10,000 characters. The language
can be either German or English. If you submit it in English, then we
will translate it into German. The submission *deadline* is: September
30, 2020. Submissions under info(at) with the subject

*Sources of Inspiration*

Please learn more about the SILENT WORKS exhibition and conference
project on this website: Here you can also find
various sources of inspiration for tackling the hidden human labor in
AI-driven capitalism, including interviews with Dario Azzellini about
capitalism’s system error as “disaster” and opportunity for labor
struggles; Christine Braunersreuther about why the “system relevance” of
care workers can no longer be denied; Sujatha Byravan about what the
“corona crisis” means for mobile laborers in India – and the world at
large; Niccolò Cuppini about the explosion of authoritarianism and labor
struggles in Italy’s “War on Corona;” Kerstin Guhlemann about health
protection in Industry 4.0 and human labor as a disruptive factor; Tom
Holert about learning as labor and re-inventing ‘the school’ along the
lines of ‘the factory;’ Eiji Oguma about what the ‘corona crisis’
reveals about the ‘robotization of work’ in Japan; and Katja Schwaller
about how invisibilized work is made visible during the “corona crisis.”

*About Berliner Gazette*

Berliner Gazette (BG) is a nonprofit and nonpartisan team of
journalists, researchers, artists and coders. We experiment with and
analyze emerging cultural as well as political practices. Since 1999 we
have been publishing under a Creative Commons License
– with more than 1,000 contributors from all over the world – as well as
organizing conferences and editing books.


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the Hidden Human #Labor In #AI-Driven Capitalism? Length: 10.000
characters. Language: EN or GER. For publication in:
Deadline: Sept. 30, 2020. Sources of inspiration + more info here: #SilentWorks via @berlinergazette].

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