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That the modern world is a complex place will not have escaped your notice.
We are all dimly, unsettlingly aware that our lives are enmeshed in systems we can’t fully comprehend. The last meal you ate probably contained produce grown in another country that was harvested, processed, packaged, shipped, then sold to you. The phone in your hand is the end-product of an even more convoluted chain; one that relies on human labor from mines in Africa, assembly lines in China, and standing desks in San Francisco.
Explaining how these systems connect and the effect they have on the world is not an easy task. But it’s what professors Kate Crawford and Vladan Joler have attempted to do in a new artwork and essay, unveiled last Friday at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London.
The main artwork is a huge map, two meters high and five meters across, which traces the systems used to power one of the most complex products of the modern day: an AI-powered gadget, specifically, an Amazon Echo. It’s a mess of branching lines in stark black and white, and looks more like the schematics of a nuclear reactor than an everyday gadget. The print is called Anatomy of an AI system, but its subtitle explains its scope: “The Amazon Echo as an anatomical map of human labor, data and planetary resources.”
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