[Plura-list] Reverse centaurs and the failure of AI; Gorgeous, slipcased editions of public domain classics

Cory Doctorow doctorow at craphound.com
Wed Feb 17 10:25:39 EST 2021


This afternoon at 130PM Pacific, I'm giving a talk called "Technology,
Self-Determination, and the Future of the Future" for the Purdue
University CERIAS Program:



Today's links

* Reverse centaurs and the failure of AI: Turkers all the way down.

* Gorgeous, slipcased editions of public domain classics: Dave McKean's
Crime and Punishment.

* This day in history: 2006, 2011, 2016

* Colophon: Recent publications, upcoming/recent appearances, current
writing projects, current reading


👨🏿‍🦼 Reverse centaurs and the failure of AI

The idea of "centaurs" comes from automation theorists: it describes a
system where a human and a machine collaborate to do more than either
one could do on their own. The world's best chess players are centaurs:
grand masters paired with software:


While centaurs hold out enormous promise for extending human
capabilities and making our lives better, they have a dark corollary:
the reverse centaur. That's a system where the machine uses the human
for support, not the other way around.

Amazon's Mechanical Turk is an example of this: a "cloud" of low-waged,
precarious pieceworkers that you can tap on demand to do cognitive work
that software can't do, mediated through an automation layer that makes
the human dimension of the labor invisible.

Writing in the *FT*, Sarah O'Connor (no, seriously) describes how she
came to reverse her once-optimistic position on automation, after the
brutal conditions of warehouses were made worse by reverse centaur


Warehouse robots can carry heavy loads and roll over endless miles
without complaint. These are two of the most physically punishing
elements of a human warehouse worker's job, so you'd think that the
introduction of these robots would make workers' lives better.

But that's not how it plays out. There's one task warehouse robots are
really bad at: picking ("I struggle to find the robot that [can] handle
a bag of plaster of Paris, a bit for a jackhammer, a galvanised steel
garbage can, a saw blade, and a 5-gallon bucket of paint").

Warehouse automation has transformed warehouse workers into adjuncts for
robots, not the other way around. The robots set the pace, literally:
"The average worker picks roughly 100 items per hour if walking around,
but more than 300 items an hour in the automated system."

This pace is set by the robot, and the repetitive, high intensity
standing, bending and reaching labor has caused injury rates to increase
every year in proportion to the degree of automation in Amazon warehouses:


O'Connor finishes her piece by noting: "Dehumanisation and
intensification of work is not inevitable...In other words, we must make
sure the robots work for us, and not the other way around."

This is extremely well said, and absolutely crucial.

The problem here isn't automation, it's power. The workers whom the
robots could benefit are instead harnessed to the robot to the benefit
of the shareholders.

Workplace democracy, AKA unionization, AKA the thing Amazon has pulled
out every dirty trick to prevent, is the difference between centaur
utopia and reverse-centaur dystopia.


Emmanuel Kant's "Formula of Humanity" told us that "treating people as
means" was a violation of the supreme principal of morality - humans
should be served automation, not harnessed to it.


The important thing about technology isn't merely what it does, but who
it does it *to*, and who it does it *for*.


👨🏿‍🦼 Gorgeous, slipcased editions of public domain classics

Since 2017, Beehive Books has been kickstarting *gorgeous*, slipcased,
oversized new hardcover editions of beloved public domain classics,
lavishly illustrated by the best artists working today.


After they fulfil their Kickstarter pre-orders, Beehive lists the
remaining stock on their site at $100 each. They've just listed three
new titles:

I. Peter Pan (illustrated by Brecht Evens)


II. The Blazing World (illustrated by Rebekka Dunlap)



III. Crime and Punishment (illustrated by Dave McKean)


All three are stupendous, readable works of art, but I was absolutely
gobsmacked by McKean's work on Crime and Punishment.

The book showcases McKean's virtuosity in all its dimensions: stark
monochrome charcoal drawings, lavish mixed-media collages, and gripping
full-page paintings.

Of course, I'm biased. Early in my career, McKean did an incredible,
unspeakably amazing cover for my novel SOMEONE COMES TO TOWN SOMEONE
LEAVES TOWN, art-directed by Irene Gallo.


I'm grateful to Beehive for my review copies of these three books.
Beehive is running another Kickstarter pre-order campaign for its next
three books:


* KWAIDAN & SHADOWINGS by Lafcadio Hearn, illustrated by Kent Williams

* A VOYAGE TO ARCTURUS by David Lindsay, illustrated by Jim Woodring

* THE GREAT GATSBY by F. Scott Fitzgerald, illustrated by the Balbusso Twins


👨🏿‍🦼 This day in history

#15yrsago Sony BMG demotes CEO for deploying DRM

#15yrsago RIAA using kids’ private info to attack their mother

#10yrsago Midwestern Tahrir: Workers refuse to leave Wisconsin capital
over Tea Party labor law

#5yrsago Listen: podcast about the alleged “data” collected by wearable
devices https://www.oreilly.com/content/rachel-kalmar-on-data-ecosystems/

#5yrsago Back-room revisions to TPP sneakily criminalize fansubbing &
other copyright grey zones


👨🏿‍🦼 Colophon

Today's top sources: Naked Capitalism (https://www.nakedcapitalism.com/).

Currently writing:

* My next novel, "The Lost Cause," a post-GND novel about truth and
reconciliation. Yesterday's progress: 515 words (111410 total).

* A short story, "Jeffty is Five," for The Last Dangerous Visions.
Yesterday's progress: 304 words (5685 total).

Currently reading: Analogia by George Dyson.

Latest podcast: Privacy Without Monopoly: Data Protection and
Interoperability (Part 1) Privacy Without Monopoly: Data Protection and
Interoperability (Part 1)

Upcoming appearances:

* Keynote, NISO Plus, Feb 22,

* Technology, Self-Determination, and the Future of the Future (Purdue
CERIAS), Feb 17,

*  Mellon Sawyer Seminar on Contemporary Political Struggle: Social
Movements, Social Surveillance, Social Media (with Zeynep Tufekci), Feb
24, https://ucdavis.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_I99f4x8WRiKCfKUljVcYPg

* World Ethical Data Forum keynote, Mar 17-19,

* Interop: Self-Determination vs Dystopia (FITC), Apr 19-21,

Recent appearances:

* Chop Shop Economics

* Monocle Reads

* Hedging Bets on the Future (Motherboard Cyber):

Latest book:

* "Attack Surface": The third Little Brother novel, a standalone
technothriller for adults. The *Washington Post* called it "a political
cyberthriller, vigorous, bold and savvy about the limits of revolution
and resistance." Order signed, personalized copies from Dark Delicacies

* "How to Destroy Surveillance Capitalism": an anti-monopoly pamphlet
analyzing the true harms of surveillance capitalism and proposing a
(print edition:

* "Little Brother/Homeland": A reissue omnibus edition with a new
introduction by Edward Snowden:
https://us.macmillan.com/books/9781250774583; personalized/signed copies

* "Poesy the Monster Slayer" a picture book about monsters, bedtime,
gender, and kicking ass. Order here:
https://us.macmillan.com/books/9781626723627. Get a personalized, signed
copy here:

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provided that you attribute it to me, Cory Doctorow, and include a link
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"*When life gives you SARS, you make sarsaparilla*" -Joey "Accordion
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