Tuesday, August 27, 2019

we are all mechanical turkeys

When Amazon setup the Mechanical Turk, they were making a play on the fake, chess playing robot, and of course, being ironic, in more ways than they realized (or less, given Ed Byrne's excellent observational humour). Like much of the gig economy, in this post-work world in which we find ourselves not living (despite labour saving devices reducing the need for farmers and builders and factory workers to a %age of what they once were), the mech turk represents exploitation by the owners of the means of production - the peoples' labour is only worth anything because of amazon's vast global platform. However, they (and uber and deliveroo etc) don't represent the pinnacle of the achievement of post-truth capitalism. That prize is won by the cloud services that give you nothing for your labour, your likes and reposts and retweets and the rest. Don't mistake that work for a social interaction with your friends/peers. Mostly, it is part of a system that is engineered to deliver things to you so you can train The Algorithm. The Algorithm is not an AI (artificial intelligence). It is simply a machine, learning from our behaviour. It isn't even a very clever machine. It doesn't typically learn to play chess. It just tunes what it delivers next time to everyone so it can earn advertising revenue for The Platform, when it manages to (fairly badly - e.g. 98% accurately) recommend stuff to people who could have just asked their friends.

Why doesn't it pay you for your labour? Because we are all mechanical turkeys. Like the legendary birds who were told about Thanksgiving Feasts being such a great social occasion for all the family, so fattening up, so they can be that feast, voting for Christmas too, we are the fodder. We are not the produce, we are the produce. We are the livestock, that fattens up the Softstock, to maximise shareholder value for the platform owners. It may look like chickenfeed to us, but it is a whole hill of beans to them.

Of course, the side effects are appalling. This is a rubbish way to do non-creative work, consuming vast amounts of energy running The Algorithm. I Think I shall refer to it from now on as the Artificial Dumber Downer. Take the collective intelligence of the human race, and create something less intelligent than the most stupid person in the population. And fool almost all the people, almost all the time while doing it. And take the money and walk to the bank, don't run.

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