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Leslie Liu

Eve Mallory is a collaboration between a historian of AI and a design technologist.

Leslie Liu is a design technologist interested in the affect of generative media and bottom of the barrel advertising. Together with Jina Hyun, Leslie works under the pseudonym Eve Mallory, taking after cryptological characters in science and engineering literature. With a combined background spanning fine art, film and media studies, graphic/interaction design, and the history of science, Eve Mallory emerges as a playful homage to the design defaults of protocols of encounter.


Humanistic Ur-heuristic Memetics for American Agency in Crisis (HUMAAC)

Following the questions of agency as proposed by Foreign Objekt, is the subject of precarious agency that of the human thought collective (denkkollektive), the digital knowledge commons, or artificial intelligence as its own sovereign entity? Our questions surrounding agency and computation seem to stem from a sense of unprecedented urgency in what seems like present industry-captured contexts of artificial intelligence. However, critical engagement with the history of AI and computing suggest otherwise. The hype, myth, and industry of artificial intelligence today work in tandem to silence and render opaque the histories which are quintessential to understanding that our pressing questions are not so novel.

Agency is not a fixed concept; it is a flexible term defined by those who wield power. Following Stephanie Dick’s notes on intelligence and computation, we posit, within the framework outlined by Foreign Objekt, that the determinants of agency are too, a moving target in the history of artificial intelligence. Intelligence has played a crucial role in history to define who constitutes as the holder of agency. Notably in the history of computing, Charles Babbage, the “father of the computer”, contributed to the deskilling of calculation as a marker of intelligence by mechanicizing it into an automatic function in the nineteenth century. While Babbage defined his role as a philosopher-inventor having the concept/blueprint of the difference engine in mind, he belittled the artisanal labor of the craftsman and engineer who physically built the engine, and rendered illegitimate the working class of human calculators who were manually solving logarithms. Those solving calculations and working with their hands to build something were performing non-intellectual labor in Babbage’s eyes — at the same time these laborers were actively bringing his engine to life, their intellectual agency and work agency were being ideologically stripped away to be replaced by it.

The prioritization of immaterial, cerebral, and managerial work as “worthwhile” work to be immortalized in history contributes to the alluring mythology of contemporary Silicon Valley entrepreneurship: the tech industry runs on sweeping speeches promising disruption for a primarily Western audience. We cannot help but ask, why perpetuate these ideologies of the single technological genius — by whom are these technologies meaningfully made usable, and for whom?

“Big Tech” relies on the exploitation of the Global South to service both its stakeholders and customers in the Global North, notably the United States, and such exploitation occurs across every step of the supply chain. From the raw materials indispensable to electronic devices such as cobalt and lithium to the labor of mass data labeling, it is undeniable that the Global South has been seen and sustained as a market for useful exploitation. As seen with Babbage’s engines, the materiality of such labor has been and still is tactically rendered invisible in the rhetoric of automation. Visibility, and on the pressing opposite end, invisibility, plays a critical role in erasing the existence (and by extension, the agency) of particular kinds of human work involved in our so-called devices of automation. In the false sense of absolute automation, nothing today is more conceptually emblematic of this than artificial intelligence.

Accelerationist dogmas in tech usher in a rhetoric of AI as an inevitable paradigm shift, even a paradigmatic entity — exemplified in the cultural narratives that posit it as an anthropomorphized “alive” figure (which extends the asinine idea that one must consider the agency of AI as its own thing). By marketing itself as the sole arbiter (or at least major player) of how the AI paradigm shift/AI revolution can occur, Big Tech embeds itself as both dispenser and problem solver of current philosophical anxieties about agency: it is incentivized to produce other problems — more petit bourgeois ones — that transform current political unrest into individualized dilemmas about creativity and humanity. Through the use of AI and its cultural narratives and mythologies, we consider AI a contributor to intelligence and “human” creativity — and Big Tech has staked the claim of AI as a commodity where they have sole control. As Simon Shaffer has noted, the task of marking the site of intelligence is an inherently political one: the site of the manufactory where Babbage’s engine was being built reshaped intelligence two centuries ago, as the site of large tech oligopolies today is refiguring what intelligence might come to mean in the near future. Both events signal the same series of events, a machine-enabled neo-colonization where those in power become the distributor and inventor of intelligence, disempowering those who labor to truly produce it. And both events too, signal towards the same erasure: to be denied intelligence is to be given a death sentence.

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