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The Networked Assembly Line

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The algorithm is your new boss and the factory is everywhere

 
THE dystopian prospect of being enslaved to artificial intelligence has arrived. Sort of. The sensational fantasies of machine domination have been replaced with a banal reality: The AI isn’t a murderer, it’s an insecure boss who needs constant reassurance that its jokes are funny.

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The Eaten World

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Measuring our bodies against the reluctant microbiome metaphor

 

1.

A few months ago I had my gut microbiome analyzed–a $99 value–free of charge. The American Gastroenterology Association made the offer to all of its trainee members, myself included. Through the mail I received two cotton swabs in a sterile plastic tube (the accompanying instructions were careful to specify that the amount of stool needed for a successful analysis was likely less than I expected). I sent back the swabs, no longer sterile, and a few weeks later looked up my results online.

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The End Is Always Near

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The flourishing of fascism depends upon a sense of inevitability; Peter Frase’s Four Futures: Life After Capitalism summons the will and concentration to imagine differently.

 
IS there any reason to expect that technological advances will address economic inequality? In an 1856 speech, Karl Marx raised this question by pointing out that “the newfangled sources of wealth, by some strange weird spell, are turned into sources of want.” He noted that though machines were “gifted with the wonderful power of shortening and fructifying human labor,” workers were nonetheless overworked and hungry. “All our invention and progress,” he argued, “seem to result in endowing material forces with intellectual life, and in stultifying human life into a material force.” That is, technology tends to dignify machines at the expense of people’s dignity. Eleven years later, in the first volume of Capital, Marx would claim it “possible to write a whole history of the inventions made since 1830 for the sole purpose of providing capital with weapons against working-class revolt.”

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Podcast Out

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A sense of ennui and overdetermination binds the audience of NPR podcasts together in a bloc of obnoxious explainerism

 
IT is Monday morning. Each week a fresh batch of NPR podcasts are delivered to my phone: Radiolab, The TED Radio Hour, Hidden Brain, Invisibilia, Note to Self, and Freakonomics Radio. They hope to address the relationship between technology and society: everything from the pace of technological innovation and scientific discovery to the role of risk and equivocality in decision-making. And yet, as the host opens with grand promises–“today we will look at what makes us feel like we belong” or “what happens when we start tracking the small things in life?”–I can’t help but think about all the authors who could speak to the topic at hand. Scholars of social movements that could describe the changing tactics and demands of women’s rights movements; philosophers that could weigh the responsibility of paying attention to current events with the desire to be happy; and sociologists that could explain why measuring everyday occurrences can change the way you think about them.

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Where Nothing Can Possibly Go “Worng”

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The glitches in HBO’s Westworld might tell us something about those in our own

HOW did we not see it coming? Was Trump’s “triumph,” as it was dubbed by the New York Times, a glitch? Or were America’s liberals simply more comfortable imagining that misogyny, racism, and xenophobia hadn’t been so deeply programmed into American political life?

If we are serious about trying to reckon with how we ended up in what seems like an alternative future, we might start with sources other than the news: we have a timely resource in HBO’s Westworld, a study about what happens when the power relationships between humans and the androids they created to serve their deepest desires go haywire. 

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