‘Alexa, turn on the hall lights’
The cylinder springs into life. ‘OK.’ The room lights up….
This is an interaction with Amazon’s Echo device. 3 A brief command and a response is the most common form of engagement with this consumer voice-enabled AI device. But in this fleeting moment of interaction, a vast matrix of capacities is invoked: interlaced chains of resource extraction, human labor and algorithmic processing across networks of mining, logistics, distribution, prediction and optimization. The scale of this system is almost beyond human imagining. How can we begin to see it, to grasp its immensity and complexity as a connected form?
The graphic and passage above are excerpts from Kate Crawford and Vladan Joler, “Anatomy of an AI System: The Amazon Echo As An Anatomical Map of Human Labor, Data and Planetary Resources,” The AI Now Institute and SHARE Lab, (September 7, 2018)
In their stunning new work, which comprises both an essay and a vast infographic, Crawford and Joler strip away the smooth exterior of Amazon’s Echo to reveal the global network of human labor, data, and planetary resources that make this technology possible.
…invisible, hidden labor, outsourced or crowdsourced, hidden behind interfaces and camouflaged within algorithmic processes is now commonplace, particularly in the process of tagging and labeling thousands of hours of digital archives for the sake of feeding the neural networks.