Tag: smart technology

Dumbwaiters and Smartphones: The Responsibility of Intelligence

“I don’t have to drink alone,” she paused for comedic effect, “now that I have Alexa.” Thus was the punchline of a story told by a widowed octogenarian at a recent wedding. Alexa is a mass-produced personality that can play music, suggest items for purchase, monitor consumption and health habits, or, like any good friend, just listen. While all these tasks could be performed in silence with various algorithmic appliances, Alexa and her cousins from Google and Apple are imbued with a perceived autonomy directly stemming from their capacity for vocalization. Speech, it seems, beckons the liberation of abiotic materials from their machinic programming. (read more...)

Data Doppelgängers and Issues of Consent

Editor’s Note: This is the fifth post in our Law in Computation series. In February 2018, journalist Kashmir Hill wrote about her collaboration with researcher Surya Mattu to make her (Hill’s) home as “smart” as possible. They wanted to see what they could learn about privacy, both from the perspective of living in such a house and from the ‘data fumes’ or ‘data exhaust’ of all these smart appliances themselves. Data fumes or exhaust refer to the traces we leave behind when we interact digitally but also, often, information that we provide to sign-up on digital platforms (gender, location, relationships etc). These traces, when aligned and collated with our daily digital behaviours on social media, e-commerce and Search platforms, are vital to the speculative and dynamic constructions of who we might be. (read more...)

Hardwired Hayek: Lessons for economic anthropology from electricity markets

For most of its history in the US, electricity has been a monopoly commodity: in a delimited territory, only one company was legally allowed to produce and deliver electricity to consumers. This state of affairs started to be challenged in the 1970s, when, in accordance with the neoliberal wave, a number of infrastructural services (e.g., airlines, telecommunications) were deregulated, meaning, they were made competitive by law. Electricity followed in the 1990s. First, the Energy Policy Act of 1992 allowed states to break monopolistic utilities into separate production and delivery companies. This act also allowed states to take technological measures to ensure that new companies could plug into the electric grid to sell or buy electricity. And then the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) introduced the concept of electricity markets—computational processes through which prices are set for all buyers and sellers, and which are operated by non-profit operators of the transmission grid. I can’t stress enough the computational nature of these new markets: they exist because the grid is wired up with many kinds of sensors and computational devices that are calculating continuously and zigzagging “information.” Making these markets requires not just economists, but also engineers, programmers, traders, and database specialists—all concerned with making sure that the nature and order of information flows are just right. (read more...)