[iDC] Just Say Adorno

Ayhan ayhana at gmail.com
Fri Nov 20 18:20:20 UTC 2009

Thank you for pointing out the connections between pre-modern concepts of
automata and the oriental other. From the medieval theological texts to
enlightenment drama the European imagination is replete with concepts that
conflate automata with the oriental. To some extent, this association is
related with the first introduction of the idea of automata from the
Byzantium and Islamic literary sources into Europe in late medieval period.
Since the technique of making automata was associated with the heresy of
Islam, sorcery and other illegitimate knowledge practices, its Oriental
image was crucial to create a screen (or a veil) on which techno-mythical
desires of autonomous machines could safely be projected.

Kempelen's chess playing automaton is one of the examples of this idea,
congealed in a material form that was made perform the idea of
controlling/manipulating the body and the mind of the other through their
own logic, the machine. Influenced by these historical examples, my take on
Amazon's Mechanical Turk as a global labor market can not ignore the
cultural mediation role of this market between the postindustrial west and
the Global Rest. It is also helpful to remind us that the immaterial labor
is not just immaterial, digital labor is not just digital, and software does
not exist (as Kittler argues) without hardware. And when I look at the
hardware of our times, the Personal Computer, I can not help but see the
little cabin that is made to fit a single chess player who is surrounded by
the tools to manipulate the game that he is not invited to watch as part of
the audience. Its a very strong metaphor to think about both the limitations
and the possibilities of the current logic of the network. This condition of
alienation through atomization in the cognitive labor scheme as "innovated"
by Amazon's MTurk clearly undermines the cooperative aspect of immaterial
labor as claimed by Tiziana Terranova, Hardt&Negri and many others.
When we consider from the perspective of the innovation as an internal force
of capitalism, as explained by Pasquinelli on his reading of Lazzarato
reading Tarde (Jonathan Beller's earlier post), this innovation of MTurk is
clearly concentrated on the design of the task flow, the procedural
knowledge embedded in the machine shop that facilitates the cognitive work
for optimum productivity. I think it is crucial to consider digital labor
from the perspective of the corporate control room in order to understand
some of the preferences that goes into the logic of its machine and
constitute its characteristics of mode of
production/interaction/consumption. MTurk divides cognitive tasks into
discrete pieces so that the completion of tasks are not dependent on the
cooperation of the workers themselves, but organized from the outside by the
interaction modules designed by the requesters compatible with MTurk's
operation platform. By the elimination of the cooperation aspect of the
cognitive work, the labor power becomes a "variable capital" in the Marxian
sense because the labor power needs the activation and organization of the
capital in order to create value.

I think Irani&Silberman's Turkopticon is a great response to this problem. I
had the privilege to be in the same panel with Lilly Irani during the
conference and I think their research is terrific. Another MTurk talkback
apparatus, TurkersTalk is hosted by Talkshoe, an online community call
service that provides tools for groups of people to interact by audio
recordings, chats and video conferencing also sounds very promising.

I will soon post a draft of my paper on the conference site and would love
to hear your feedback.

Ayhan Aytes

Ph.D. Candidate
University of California San Diego
Department of Communication

On Thu, Nov 19, 2009 at 5:47 AM, David Golumbia <dgolumbia at virginia.edu>wrote:

> May I enthusiastically second this as an audience member? I assumed
> Martin must have missed your paper, Ayhan, which I think was the last or
> second-to-last paper on the panel, and I found it just terrific and
> unexpected. The historical connection between Western perceptions of the
> Muslim other and computing was astonishing; and I don't think I see you
> directly mentioning here, Ayhan, the close historical connection you
> demonstrated between the words "automata" and "Turk." I'm still thinking
> over all the consequences of this paper more than any other from the
> conference, & I highly recommend it to anyone who hasn't had a look at
> it (is a copy of it on scribd or one of the other conference sites)?
> David
> Ayhan wrote:
> > Hi Martin,
> > My presentation was actually on the orientalist imaginations inscribed in
> the conceptions of the human machine assemblages. I used a media
> archaeological analysis to demonstrate the role of the oriental other in the
> 18th century automata that incorporated the mechanical animation of Muslim
> bodies for mediation of the key philosophical discussions on Cartesian
> mind/body duality. Within the long history of human workers kept hidden
> behind the machines, or as specters that animated the industrial machine,
> Amazon's utilization of Kempelen's Mechanical Turk automaton as its metaphor
> for branding and the model for exploitation in the age of cognitive labor
> looks like a corporate Turret syndrome.
> >
> > The cultural as you suggested is not a mere superstructure but it is at
> the center of the evolution of these technologies. Before the actualization
> of many technologies we see the efforts of imaginations and
> conceptualizations through various devices that act as the cultural
> apparatus for later reconfigurations. 18th century automata was among such
> apparatus and many of the notions we discuss today were explored through
> their proxies of that time, the chess playing Turk being one of them. It was
> a safe proxy for exploring the uncanny possibilities of the idea of
> autonomous machines. Interestingly today, it is still relevant to such an
> extent that its vivid image is almost transparent or outside of our field of
> vision as a factor in our analysis of the alterity in the cognitive labor.
> > Thank you for bringing this issue up.  I also wanted to thank Trebor for
> organizing this conference, it was a great experience for me and I learned a
> lot.
> >
> >
> > Ayhan Aytes
> >
> > Ph.D. Candidate
> > University of California San Diego
> > Department of Communication
> >
> > Ayhan Aytes
> >
> > Ph.D. Candidate
> > University of California San Diego
> > Department of Communication
> >
> >
> >
> --
> David Golumbia
> Assistant Professor
> Media Studies, English, and Linguistics
> University of Virginia
> _______________________________________________
> iDC -- mailing list of the Institute for Distributed Creativity (
> distributedcreativity.org)
> iDC at mailman.thing.net
> https://mailman.thing.net/mailman/listinfo/idc
> List Archive:
> http://mailman.thing.net/pipermail/idc/
> iDC Photo Stream:
> http://www.flickr.com/photos/tags/idcnetwork/
> RSS feed:
> http://rss.gmane.org/gmane.culture.media.idc
> iDC Chat on Facebook:
> http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=2457237647
> Share relevant URLs on Del.icio.us by adding the tag iDCref
-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
URL: http://mailman.thing.net/pipermail/idc/attachments/20091120/09758910/attachment.htm 

More information about the iDC mailing list