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Sometimes I feel that my body is an obstruction.
Therefore, I have to state, "I am not my body". The body of work and thought is the true body of mine, not the one which fails to wake up on time every morning. “I am not my physical body” seems to be an absurd statement, but only until there is a possibility to choose from multiple different modes of existence. The level of trust in technology, in a tech saturated environment of the first world, allows to speculate and to suggest that eventually and machine mind can merge to create a hybrid. The current human body has many limitations, so what if we were able to wire our brains to powerful and tireless computers? In that perspective, I do not want to be a human. No, by saying that I don’t mean that I want to stop living, to commit suicide. It is just a reflection on the bitter taste of losing to a machine. A machine which is so essential to me.
What are the qualities in which it exceeds me?
The quality I crave is the directness with which tasks are executed once defined. A machine may crash if a task requires too much of its power, but it won’t have doubts or procrastinate on the way from point A, when the assignment is given, to point B, when it is delivered.
I am speaking of small-scale computation, mainly about the experience of a creative professional coexisting with her laptop. On a higher level, is the task of computation to deliver results or rather to open up opportunities?
As an homage to “The Man-Machine” by Kraftwerk, I‘d call a hypothetical hybrid of me and a computer “The Woman-Machine”, simply because I am a woman, and also because the “robotic chants” make me want to dance. The Woman-Machine is intelligent (which is the quality of a human and a machine), outstandingly productive (more machine than me), and capable of effortless learning (think combination of machine learning and human curiosity). The Woman-Machine never has writer’s block. And I do.
Besides writer's block, there is a deadline, when this thesis needs to be delivered.
That particular deadline has passed, only to allow new ones to come, such as preparing a new version of the text. I am still struggling with all the aforementioned things.
And it does not matter if I am desperate, exhausted, or losing my mind. This is the very moment when I attempt to become a machine: There are vast amounts of software and applications designed to improve my productivity, and I gladly let their interfaces to shape my behaviour.
Interfaces are designed to guide people through the daily process of interaction with their devices, such as for planning and reminders, online purchases, or bills. Everything is administered by software. These programs communicate in a natural language, enabling the user to learn how to be understood by her device.
Technology is becoming more and more user-friendly
Yet we are discovering more and more about the hunter-gatherer nature of algorithms ruling our social lives, where the position of a user is not the one of an individual agency but the one of a prey
which means that intuitive interaction can create an illusion that the human and the computer are speaking the same language, which is, in fact, not true.
The sentence is very naive itself, yet, I still would not remove it. This statement is totally serious and charged with meaning in any of the fictional universes where humans coexist with embodied machines, such as Westworld or Ex-machina.
In this kind of environment the difference between user experience and interpersonal relationship is not that obvious. The prospect of machines learning faster than humans and becoming super-intelligent raise even more questions about the definition of humanity and the ways in which humans will communicate.1
Coming back to the “The Woman-Machine”, will sex and gender still exist if there is no need for biological reproduction? Maybe the physical body will have no value in the future. Will there be any hospitals when organic parts can be replaced with machinery? In this techno-utopian or techno-dystopian scenario, I cannot imagine anyone preventing her physical body from dying. We will be losing our bodies just to be reborn, as a caterpillar abandons its body to start living as a butterfly.
The illusion of likeness, facilitated by friendly and intuitive interfaces, makes artificial intelligence somehow expected to become sensitive, and yet to take over humans and dictate their behaviour. The assumption comes from the human expectation, driven by this illusion, that it has a similar desire to compete and conquer. But people already coexist with many AI implementations: from simple chatbots, “employed” as sales assistants or leaving spam comments to Google’s complex neural network algorithms which enable the search engines to “learn on their own”. 2
Google’s machine learning TensorFlow , has been released open-source. Also the field of LegalTech, where algorithms facilitate legal work and creation of documents, is a good example of AI-powered structure. Example:
While simple chatbots deploy specific forms of programmed intelligence in limited situations, neural networks like those used by Google are robust chains of software and hardware that simulate the complexity of the human brain. These networks process enormous amounts of data, recognize patterns, and adapt and apply their learning in a diverse range of tasks.
Also it is a different division of labor? To train a chatbot manually, the trainer should spend hours on writing the questions and the variations of questions, constructing all the possible pathways for the conversations to follow. Machine trainer is actually one of the professions predicted to grow by the MIT Technology Review: “It takes a lot of hard, grinding work to train AI software to actually be, you know, intelligent. A robotics company might need data on thousands of instances of gripping a part on an assembly line, for example. In December, Googlehired 10,000 workers to help clean up content on YouTube and train its machine-learning technology. The jobs created may not be glamorous, or even permanent. But they will be crucial in the transition to a more automated workforce.”
The much anticipated superintelligence of the future would be able to learn and perform (or outperform?) any task which a human can complete, and acquire sensorimotor skills and the notion of physics along the way.
At some point, it will have the image of a physical world, we both live in.
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, to “compete” is to “strive to gain or win something by defeating or establishing superiority over others”.3 Ambitions and the need to establish superiority is seen in animals, such as humans. But why are such ambitions assigned to algorithms?
Before begging to investigate, I need to define the difference between an organism (because human is an animal, and therefore, an organism) and a machine, and between natural and artificial. “Artificial intelligence” should also be defined.
The term “organism” 9 comes from a Greek word organon, which literally means “instrument”. The living thing that can react to stimuli, reproduce, grow and maintain homeostasis. The Wikipedia article describes homeostasis as
“ ...the property of a system in which variables are regulated so that internal conditions remain stable and relatively constant. Examples of homeostasis include the regulation of temperature and the balance between acidity and alkalinity (pH). Human homeostasis is the process that maintains the stability of the human body's internal environment in response to changes in external conditions.” 10
In other words, organisms are able to regulate their internal processes and to adjust to the environment. An organism maintains its bits and parts together and positions itself in space, being a self-regulating design. An organism can re-grow some of its parts. For example, the average person, an organism, loses somewhere in between 60 and 100 hairs a day, and 90% of all hairs on her head are in the stage of growth. The remaining 10 percent are in the stage of resting and about to fall.
Speaking of homeostasis, devices have enclosures designed in a such a way that people can use them without breaking the mechanism. I may think that AI is not aware of its own enclosure and physical presence, but I barely know anything about the processes inside my own body. Although people are aware of having a body, they often face difficulties when describing what exactly they feel.
According to Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy we are aware of “the position and movements of our limbs, of the contact of our clothes on our skin, of the muscle pain in our legs, of our feeling of thirst. It may be difficult to describe what we feel, but what we feel can be so intense that we are sometimes not able to think of anything else than our body” 11.
Machines are not organically constructed, but man-made. They are the products of human culture; so far they remain inside of it, and there is no “machine culture” yet. Also, there are no machines which are able to think exactly the way humans do, because the knowledge about the brain doesn’t give all the information, required to re-create these processes. In school, we are taught the basics of computation and languages, but the way the brain multiplies or subtracts or conjugates verbs remains unexplained.
The machine can be reassembled, or if destroyed, replaced with another one. The production of a machine follows very strict guidelines, and the result is predictable. This is the opposite of organic nature, where the result varies. Genetically modified and edited organisms are the result of a human attempt to make organisms which fit certain expectations, and the difference between production of an Apple and production of an apple gets blurred.
A machine has mechanical power, is built to perform particular tasks, and can be turned on and off. A human cannot be turned on and off entirely, only certain functions can be enabled or disabled. Modern medicine works towards the possibility to extend a human lifetime by making parts replaceable or growing new ones. The desire for eternal life has been clearly expressed by certain groups — from the believers in afterlife to the adepts of cryonics, who freeze their brain hoping that one day there can be a technology to revive it and give it a body.
Google, in the meantime, does not only count on its machinery, but has established a biotech company. Calico 12 (California Life Company), founded in 2013, researches aging in order to enable people to lead longer and healthier lives.
Certainly, technological progress has a lot to do with the fear of death, something which will inevitably happen to a wealthy first-world tech-optimist, as well as to anyone. As a living being, which has begun and will end and then decompose, a human has only one body and cannot (yet) transition to another one, only adjust the one she already owns. Decomposing organisms fertilize the growing ones, unlike the decomposing machines. Would the world be a better place if we could grow hard drives out of piles of dead floppy disks?
In his book Design as Art Bruno Munari describes an orange as an industrial product. After explaining the structure and the content of an orange, he explains the purpose of the seed: “...the sections generally contain a small seed from the same plant that produced the fruit. This is a small free gift offered by the firm to the client in case the latter wishes to start a production of these objects on his own account. We draw your attention to the fact while no economic loss is incurred in this gift, it gives rise to an important psychological bond between producer and consumer...” 13
Ironically, one of the most influential tech companies of our time carries a name of a fruit. Imagine Apple giving a seed of an IPhone to its customer?
Back to the topic of intelligence, I will cite Steven Pinker’s book How The Mind Works: “Intelligence, then, is the ability to attain goals in the face of obstacles by means of decisions based on rational (truth-obeying) rules. The computer scientists Allen Newell and Herbert Simon fleshed this idea out further by noting that intelligence consists of specifying a goal, assessing the current situation to see how it differs from the goal, and applying a set of operations that reduce the difference. Perhaps reassuringly, by this definition human beings, not just aliens, are intelligent. We have desires, and we pursue them using beliefs, which, when all goes well, are at least approximately or probabilistically true. — intelligence is following the desire, but what does the AI follow?” 14
Pinker notes that rational rules are described as truth-obeying. Machine intelligence is not meant to have doubts or to modify what “the truth” is. Serendipity, as a quality of the human thinking process, seems to be a limitation when the only criterion of comparison is efficiency. People are familiar with doubts and paradoxes, and intuition can lead to a new insight. But, being a human myself, I have no objectivity in defining whether the serendipitous detours and procrastination are not the part of a “truth-obeying” script running on the background15. Even more, as I evolve as a professional, I try to incorporate failures and hesitations into the process of aiming for hyperefficiency.
Counting on the latest developments in machine learning, the fear of AI is the fear of machines having their own truth, which may not include the wellbeing of humanity.
Ever since Almost a year ago, when I first started writing my thesis, the initial intention was to study and analyze the strategies of decision-making. Picking such an abstract and broad topic required a lot of research and narrowing down to a sizable amount of knowledge. The problem was, that while writing about choices, selection methods, and filtering information, I...couldn’t decide what exactly I was writing about. A mechanism of making a single decision bothers and puzzles me so much because, as a designer, I am eager to search for an underlying pattern. But, with all the efforts I undertake, the pattern of a decision-making does not reveal itself.
I jump to AI later after the realisation that many of my own decisions are inspired by the desire to compete in productivity with a “tireless” machine
Graphic design works with vast amounts of information and partly consists of building structures, patterns and templates. During the three years I have been studying this discipline, I became fascinated with the ways designers work with content information: organizing enormous amounts of data and creating complex schemes to sort, digest, and display it. Reducing information flows to a rather visual message requires a lot of rational thinking and reasoning. We are taught to create frameworks to fragment and make “the big thing” digestible, and there is so much beauty in processing intricate experiences into a single visual message.
Writing it today, I would totally avoid using the word data anywhere. It is largely exploited and overused to create the tech-y appeal and generate credibility, but in fact humans do not process data. They analyze and translate it, in order for it to become information. Once the information reaches the designer, it becomes content.
Overwhelmed with choices and decisions to make, I represent the target audience of all the productivity software and techniques. As I am writing this text, the Pomodoro technique app is counting the time. I have my own planning, but the interface suggests, that to complete a task (which still need to defined) I need to have 10 working sessions, 25 minutes each. Besides Pomodoro, a word count tool is keeping me on track of the few-thousand-words-thesis, a period tracker app shows that craving chocolate today is purely hormonal (so I should get some to be more productive in my writing) and I also track my activity, moves, and headaches. All of this for the sake of being more productive. Does being that informed help me make the right choice? No. 16
Choosing is so complicated because the perfect decision is a product of balancing two extremities: making fast decisions without contemplation, and taking a very long time, and a lot of effort to make the best choice, which may lead to paralyzing indecisiveness.
The number of tools is escalating, so the search of balance for the sake of productivity helps spawn more and more apps in the already-saturated market. Instead of modifying my routine in order to enable it to structure itself, I get clogged in the labyrinth of various methods and solutions.
Numerous planners and trackers remind me that I have serious tasks to complete and deciding and actually doing things becomes a burden. In Homo Ludens, Johan Huizinga writes that the highest concentration and dedication to the process happens if the process is wrapped in the structure of a game. Paradoxically, playing becomes the most serious process. The players are aware that they are playing a game, but instead of being weighed down by decision-making, they concentrate on an actual task.
The beauty and elegance of a designed gameplay structure gives comfort and protects me from the uneasiness of the "real world”. What if “taking things seriously” in a solemn and adult way was just creating more obstacles? Maybe there should be a technique focused on removing the stressful part of making a decision? Maybe there should be a app for that?
When looking at the existing iOS lifestyle applications, I see two extremes: There are so-called productivity apps, with goals to stimulate the user to achieve the desired result. There are planners, somewhere in between two extremes, because they are neutral towards the achievement of goals but also have a system of reminders to constantly keep on track with the status of the task. On the other hand, there are meditation and relaxation apps, meant to reduce anxiety, created by productivity tools and the constant buzz of reminders.
Isn’t it bizarre that there are applications to manage one’s anxiety in the environment where reminders, timers, trackers and updates are inducing it at the very same time?
By embracing the development of our operational systems and upgrading our devices, we are approaching technological singularity. We trust our planners and apps to help us decide how to live. Will the machine help me to sort out my issues, will technology be my therapist? In a perfect world I can be human and do my "human thing” all while letting the machine organize me.
The illusion of human to human interaction with the machine is called the ELIZA effect 17. ELIZA is a computer program, written at MIT by Joseph Weizenbaum between 1964 and 1966. It was designed to simulate a human-like conversation, based on processing user responses to scripts. The script DOCTOR was designed to simulate a conversation with a psychotherapist. It was one of the first chatterbots. Chatterbot (or bot) is a program whose purpose is to have a conversation with a human. The perspective of such software was that a computer would be able to pass a Turing test not by acquiring human qualities and intelligence, but by simply fooling the human.
ELIZA is a milestone in the development of artificial intelligence because it was the first time that the goal of a programmer was to create an illusion of human-human interaction. Weizenbaum noticed that humans tend to bond emotionally with the machines, and unlike a car or a musical instrument, a computer affects the thinking and behaviour. In the 1976 book Computer Power and Human Reason he writes about people who experienced emotional bonding with the program he wrote:
“I was promptly bombarded with accusations that what I proposed amounted to spying on people’s most intimate thoughts; clear evidence that people were conversing with the computer as if it were a person who could be appropriately and usefully addressed in intimate terms. I knew of course that people form all sorts of emotional bonds to machines, for example, to musical instruments, motorcycles, and cars. And I knew from long experience that the strong emotional ties many programmers have to their computers are often formed after only short exposures to their machines. What I had not realized is that extremely short exposures to a relatively simple computer program could induce powerful delusional thinking in quite normal people. This insight led me to attach new importance to questions of the relationship between the individual and the computer, and hence to resolve to think about them.” 18
In 1972, ELIZA had the first computer to computer conversation with an artificial intelligence program named PARRY. Eliza was simulating a doctor, and Parry was built to simulate a patient, suffering from Schizophrenia.
The machines we get attached to technically are still machines — by acquiring intelligence it does not acquire organic nature or bodily awareness. In order to understand why we rely on technology in our routine, we need to know and remember that the machine can simulate understanding and be perceived as a human.
Why does this shift became possible only with digital technology? In the same article Weizenbaum explains:
“...What is it about the computer that has brought the view of a man as a machine to a new level of plausibility? Clearly there have been other machines that imitated man in various ways, e.g, steam shovels. But not until the invention of the digital computer have there been machines that could perform intellectual functions of even modest scope: i.e., machines that could in any sense be said to be intelligent. Now “artificial intelligence” (AI) is a subdiscipline of computers science. This new field will have to be discussed. Ultimately a line dividing human and machine intelligence must be drawn. If there is no such line, then advocates of computerized psychotherapy may be merely heralds of an age in which man has finally been recognized as nothing but a clock-work. Then the consequences of such a reality would need urgently to be divided and contemplated.”19
This text from 1976 is so striking in 2015, even more in 2018, because computers became portable and wearable, and the amount of tasks we trust to technology has dramatically increased. This raises the actuality of these issues.
For example, the development of self-driving cars an example of techno-optimism being too optimistic. Also, note the cases of conflicts between software companies and governments, such as the FBI-Apple encryption dispute.
Biohacking is a movement that, among its other scopes, is dedicated to augmenting nature and the human body in particular by the means of technology. It aims to improve functionality and performance and also to provide people with more freedom in designing their own lives not by managing them, but by adjusting the body to the tasks it needs to perform. The data-driven lifestyle, first adopted by a few technology and computing enthusiasts, is getting more and more followers. Using hacker ethic, 20 biohackers consider the human body and mind a project which can be developed further.
Hacker ethic is a term for the moral values and philosophy that are common in hacker culture. Practitioners of the hacker ethic acknowledge that sharing information and data responsibly is beneficial and helpful. Whilst the philosophy originated at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the 1950s–1960s, the term hacker ethic is attributed to journalist Steven Levy as described in his 1984 book titled Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution. The key points within this ethic are access, freedom of information, and improvement to quality of life. 21
From their own point of view on the freedom of information , biohackers claim access to biology/our bodies/data which can be received from self-tracking. The ideology stands for taking control of one’s health and mental condition from the hands of doctors and therapists. It promotes educating oneself about the way our bodies work and using intelligence, technology and logic to become an “advanced model” of an ordinary individual.
Biohacking looks for the bits of source code to the human body: In its utopian vision the approach is perfect — one can program his or her body to function in a desired way. Maybe it can be upgraded to multifunctionality of a renaissance man (actually, I would write “a renaissance girl”, because I am female, but there is no such term. Girls didn’t run the world back then), but on the other hand an error or malware can lead to total destruction. Humans tend to err, so on a large scale biohacking seems like a possible doomsday scenario.
On a small scale, biohacking is already being implemented in our everyday life. Are there biohackers among us?
Take an example of a FitBit — an activity tracker in a form of a wristband. It counts your steps, the distance you cover and calories you burn, and it cheers the user when a milestone is achieved. And it looks just like any other bracelet.
It is easy to imagine a body all covered in blinking and buzzing devices and implants, as we see these kinds of images so often in the movies. We imagine noticeable wearables, because they still look futuristic: in 2016 no one walks on the street wearing a VR device or an exoskeleton.
It’s safe to say that nothing has changed. On the contrary, in 2018 there is absolutely no need to track yourself – as users become more and more of the tracking of themselves done for them.
In fact, technology, which attracts attention to itself more than to its functionality, soon becomes obsolete in our tech-savvy world. Example: the rise and fall of Google Glass.
“Standard Innovation—the maker of the We-Vibe vibrator and accompanying app—is the subject of a federal privacy lawsuit. The suit, which seeks class-action status, claims the We-Vibe vibrator app chronicles how often and how long consumers use the sex toy and sends that data to the company's Canadian servers.”
The biohacker of 2016 doesn’t wear any cumbersome sci-fi inspired devices; she opens the door of her office with an RFID chip 22, implanted in her hand, and takes a sip of her Bulletproof coffee. 23
Technology becomes more subtle and seamlessly integrated into our routines. To track your body in 2016, you don’t necessarily need to implant a board under your skin (as Tim Cannon did in 2013: he implanted a sensor, which gets the data on his body temperature and sends it to his smartphone). There are a lot of smartphone applications to measure and track your heartbeat, movements, activity, etc.
The perception has changed as well: we are eager to share our bodies through a variety of social media applications.
Before Instagram, sharing an embodied vision of the world through images was an artistic method: In 2007 a performance artist Stelarc grew an ear-shaped tissue out of his own stem cells, and implanted it in his arm. Ear on Arm 24 project’s goal was not only to grow an ear which “hears” the same sounds as two original ears, but also makes the third ear to transmit these sounds. To share his ear with others, Stelarc had undergone two surgeries with risks and complications.
It is very different from sharing a picture of food on social networks. But thinking only of the final purpose, the differences seem to disappear. Without involvement in the culture of body modification, we grow apps to transmit bits of the world, as seen through our eyes. Take Instagram as an extension of our eyes and ears, encapsulating the momentum and stirring the desire to share and to rent our eyes and ears to others, and to give the geographical coordinates to which our bodies have been.
Non-invasive self-tracking and monitoring devices such as Fitbit are becoming mainstream. This can be compared to ripped jeans: First worn by punks, they were brought into fashion and almost dissociated with their rebellious roots. Biohacking goes from the counterculture to the popular culture.
Self-tracking and using data to increase productivity is being made into methods and applications accessible for everyone, but there is much more to biohacking than the “data-driven lifestyle/self-improvement” technologies. Over the past few years I became acquainted with a variety of artists and collectives, whose work I’d like to mention. As a non-biohacker myself, I would not like to remove the term from further versions of this text and think of these types of works as explorations of bodies affected and shaped by politics (and policies). Think Quantified Self lifestyle as an attempt to please the ableism. Aliens in Green is an investigative laboratory & tactical theater group combating the alien agents of anthropogenic xeno-power – Aliens in Green I am a multiply-composed, intoxicated body which began as asian-american-ness that had inherited plastics and phthalates from my mother's unknowing exposure as I incubated in her womb. My body is constantly queering and it never stops nor is it escapable. My sex and gender is on a continuum, and I am not alone. All organisms, we are all shifting together in this toxic landscape. To acknowledge this collective mutagenesis is to guard ourselves against the old notion of a stable body. Can we find resistance in our alien becoming? – Mary Maggic Global economy threatens to homogenize people by way of the lowest common denominator (the ability to consume) and level all differences. I feel to resist those levels of existence by using my own economy of emotions. Therefore I am submitting myself into the dog-human kinship relationship as a radical intimate action of “returning home”. The biopolitical statement of the project is about becoming-animal during a process through which I transcendent myself into a surrogate mother of the dog. Becoming-she-dog. K-9_topology: HYBRID FAMILY – Marja Smrekar The Center for Genomic Gastronomy
Constantly monitoring activities and behaviours, such as exercising, sleeping, eating, walking, or using transport, is called lifelogging. It aims to summarize the data one’s body produces in order to give the human an objective image of herself. There is also a movement, called Quantified Self, which promotes self-knowledge through numbers and holds meetings and conferences on self-tracking and improving oneself using data. Essentially, every smartphone owner is equipped for it: There is a camera to make documentations, and GPS to track movements and coordinates. It is possible to measure and keep track of one’s heartbeat using a flash from the camera. Also, there are numerous apps for tracking cycles and mental conditions, and diary-like apps. Additionally, social media apps enable sharing. Lifelogging is gathering the data for personal use and lifestreaming is aimed to share this data. A smartphone can work for both.
Chris Dancy calls himself “a mindful cyborg”. An article on Mashable.com says
“45-year-old Chris Dancy is known as the most connected man in the world. He has between 300 and 700 systems running at any given time, systems that capture real-time data about his life. His wrists are covered with a variety of wearable technology, including the fitness wristband tracker Fitbit and the Pebble smartwatch. He weighs himself on the Aria Wifi scale, uses smartphone controlled Hue lighting at home and sleeps on a Beddit mattress cover to track his sleep.” As told in this interview, Chris does that to stay healthy. "I've lost 100 pounds and learned to meditate," he says. "I'm much more aware of how I respond to life and take steps to adjust to my environment. I've also formed better habits thanks to the feedback I'm getting." 25
His statement is quite paradoxical in itself — he claims that the feedback he gets from the devices he’s wearing makes him a better human. He is more aware of his functionality and better integrated in the environment. In this case, is it his own intention to do the things he does, or is he a co-creation of himself and his wearables? From the point of view of a lifelogger our data is mastering us, but on our own conditions.
This story is so remarkable because it tells us about a man who deployed between 300 and 700 systems to simply lose weight. If he wasn’t such a tech-enthusiast, he would probably take another route. Thinking about all the obstructions to a healthy lifestyle, it is obvious that maintaining one is difficult. Building a career, eating well, sleeping enough and valuing your emotional well being simultaneously requires discipline. So of course the demand for machine control and automation of these processes seems very logical. It promises the ease of living which is so hard to achieve.
But is lifelogging a solution or a gimmick, barely describing real problems? In Cyborg manifesto Donna Haraway, explains that we are all indeed cyborgs, not by our own design, but, actually...by birth. Being born into the environment where all technology aims to improve the performance of a human body makes her a product of this environment. In her interview to Wired magazine she communicates the idea by using the example of sports footwear:
"Think about the technology of sports footwear," she says. "Before the Civil War, right and left feet weren't even differentiated in shoe manufacture. Now we have a shoe for every activity." Winning the Olympics in the cyborg era isn't just about running fast. It's about "the interaction of medicine, diet, training practices, clothing and equipment manufacture, visualization and timekeeping." When the furor about the cyborgization of athletes through performance-enhancing drugs reached fever pitch last summer, Haraway could hardly see what the fuss was about. Drugs or no drugs, the training and technology make every Olympian a node in an international technocultural network just as "artificial" as sprinter Ben Johnson at his steroid peak.”26
Do I consider myself a lifelogger? I would say so. If not a lifelogger, definitely a cyborg. Everyone who uses digital technology produces some amount of data without even realizing it, but I do intentionally turn my body’s activity into digits. I want to achieve better performance, but also constantly question my relationship with tech and my own data. Self-tracking does not always help to discover the core of the problem.
To return to the idea of high-performance cyborgs, as the current peak of our co-existence with machines, I must confess that the reason why I want to become a machine is to increase own changes of getting employed.
I failed to get employed after graduating my BA in 2016. I am still unemployed. Currently I work as a freelancer while obtaining an MA in Design from the Sandberg Institute in Amsterdam. What I meant in 2016 is that I want to outperform other candidates to score a full time contract. I am aware that becoming a machine is an easy way out of removing socio cultural limitations to my employment, such as the citizenship and gender. But what about the quality of my work? It is absolutely possible to work without weekends, while merging your brain with a computer remains conceptual. Really, this comment is the place to shout at my 2016 self for being naive and unwilling to look into what exactly renders me unemployable. What I also mean is that as a human I am easily discouraged and am capable of feeling upset after receiving a rejection etc. At the moment I am much closer to a mechanised performance – I write applications without having any expectation of the outcome (yet still fully passionate about everything I write about) and am able to continue working on other things immediately after my application gets rejected. I also experience less joy, because I stopped associating an invitation to an interview with a possibility of receiving a job offer, but that doesn’t matter much.
Amazon’s Mechanical Turk is a platform which provides access to a global, on-demand, 24x7 workforce. Humans are hired to perform image and data procession, collection and verification. Also, the algorithms which remove graphic content from social media feeds are in fact people, employed to watch all the disturbing content poured into a world wide web.
Companies like Facebook and Twitter rely on an army of workers employed to soak up the worst of humanity in order to protect the rest of us. And there are legions of them—a vast, invisible pool of human labor.28
Last, but not least, Fiverr, a marketplace for cheap voiceovers and $5 logo designs, has introduced the character of a doer – exhausted, but optimistic, working anywhere and everywhere, ignoring their physical body to successfully perform in the gig economy.
Enhanced performance will benefit my position on a job market and make me less insecure about my future. Sometimes physically dying to become a cyber workforce seems less terrifying than failing an interview because of period cramps or however else your body is capable of ruining an important moment.
A poetic performance by Erica Scourti illustrates this duality very well: an artist uses self-tracking and productivity applications in her practice. For her performance during the Did you feel it? symposium in Eindhoven, she used an application called Spritz to read her own poem on stage. Spritz is an application designed to improve the speed of reading. Its slogan is “save time, increase focus and have fun.” After uploading the text and selecting the speed in words per minute, the app starts to spit out the words in a selected speed and you only have to read what you see on the screen. This is an explanation of the science behind it from the official webpage:
Traditional reading involves publishing text in lines and moving your eyes sequentially from word to word. For each word, the eye seeks a certain point within the word, which we call the “Optimal Recognition Point” or ORP. After your eyes find the ORP, your brain starts to process the meaning of the word that you’re viewing. With each new word, your eyes move, called a “saccade”, and then your eyes seek out the ORP for that word. Once the ORP is found, processing the word for meaning and context occurs and your eyes move to the next word. When your eyes encounter punctuation within and between sentences, your brain is prompted to assemble all of the words that you have read and processes them into a coherent thought.” 29
Starting with a hundred words per minute, Erica kept gradually increasing the speed up to seven hundred words per minute, and at that certain moment she could not keep it up with her own text. She was reading it out loud on stage, and at the end of her performance, she ran out of breath, trying to keep up with the rhythm that the app was dictating.
Erica performed her piece on stage in front of an audience, but it is a good metaphor of the struggle we have every day to keep up the rhythm with which the technology we trust so much assigns us.
The public streaming of Chris Dancy’s data shows his age at the present moment, and physical activity for the past weeks. It’s possible to learn where Chris had his breakfast or lunch. It shows steps, productivity, places he have been to and pictures he liked. It also includes his Tweets. But what is the total amount of data Chris produces and how has it been used?
This online digest shows that Chris made a selection of data he wants to display in public. Also, it may mean that he does not look at the majority of the data he has produced. That brings back the questions about the ELIZA effect: If we are surrounded by systems so elaborate and sensitive to us, are we willing to ask for their advice? Or do we feel that these systems may intervene in our life? Do we feel the urge to protect ourselves from our applications?
In my experience of tracking various processes in my body with IOS apps I noticed that I have an irrational fear that the application will start evaluating me. For example, my headache tracker app. I installed it to have more accurate information on the amount of migraines I experience in a month so that my doctor can find an optimal treatment for me. I stopped using it after marking one week of daily headaches, because it felt uncomfortable. I had a feeling that after knowing this, the app may start criticizing my lifestyle.
I think by this time I can handle criticism from an app. What bothers me more is how these apps collect our data and may possibly analyze it and give their conclusions to interested third parties. There is a great irony in producing so many products for mental health and wellbeing in a world where mental health issues are still a stigma.
Some apps are very direct — an app which reminds you to drink enough water will keep buzzing until you give it the number of glasses you drank. Some apps give you the freedom to choose what to track and what to keep to yourself. For example, the period tracker app automatically counts menstrual cycles but also has an additional menu with checkboxes for pills, sex, weight and temperature. There are also separate menus for moods, cramps, etc. Once I told a friend about the mixed feelings I have about using all these checkboxes and he joked that with this kind of interface this app can start a sex-coaching career. We laughed about it and continued talking about our human problems.
I imagine it to become a full-circle integration at the point where apps where I meet potential sexual partners, such as Tinder will link to my vitals and cycles and activity of other users.
As Weizenbaum noted, even short interactions with a program could induce a “powerful delusional thinking in quite normal people”. At the time computers were occupying the entire room, could anyone think that search algorithms would gain our trust and start giving us advice and recommendations on a daily basis?
The Apple App Store opened on July 11, 2008, allowing its users to purchase applications. There were ten million downloads in the first weekend. The billionth application was downloaded on April 23, 2009. On March 3, 2012, the number of apps downloaded reached 25 billion. On June 8, 2015, Apple announced that the App Store had crossed 100 billion downloads 31
“The introduction of apps and the App Store was not without some controversy, however. Apple did not completely open up iOS, but instead prevented users from "sideloading" any app they'd like. The only legitimized way to install apps was via the App Store, and Apple set a policy of curating apps that would and wouldn't be allowed in. Some of the rules were fairly straightforward (no porn) but others put Apple in a gray area when it came to users' desires. Apple regularly rejects certain classes of apps that are allowed on other platforms, including apps that allow tethering your computer to your iPhone for internet access.”32
A hundred billion downloads is impossible to imagine. It seems that every person sitting on a train, or at the airport, or any public place with free wifi
Forget the free wifi, now it’s 4G
is downloading one. But what if the whole idea of using a smartphone is linked to impressive, unimaginable numbers, such as…the average person unlocks his or her smartphone 110 times a day, which increases to every 6 seconds for “high frequency users”.
Also, the statistics from American App Store users show that the majority of users download zero apps per month. Paired with the impressive number of downloads, what kind of image does this draw?
Apps are an important and "inevitable” part of our digital environment; we download the ones we want to use and stick to them, because of convenience and trust. They are so integrated in our lives that we create apps to block, or limit ourselves from using other apps. We simply cannot quit. So we create a layer of apps and plugins which function as an on/off switches for the first layer. Also, the statistics show that the number of apps is increasing.
“There is an app for that” is an ironic response to a problem or request, and in the case of difficult decision-making, it can be rephrased in a question “Is there an app for that?”.
People get addicted to using apps because of convenience and trust
But what does trust mean in this particular case?
When I discussed my interest in tracking data that my own body produces, one of my teachers asked me if I was talking about tracking myself or tracking other people. This is a very good question. Most likely, the apps I use are sending my data to a third party as I am writing this text.
Imagine two realities: One where everyone tracks her data for her own good — or the most malicious use by third party is targeting her as a subject for advertising or scam attempts — and another where someone else tracks my body data without informing me about the purpose, and repurposes the app without my permission. The app which tracks the daily amount of water I drink won’t add poison in it, but if it’s a wearable device what if it could harm me?
In another talk, the trust issue was also brought up — there’s no certainty if the app I’m using is doing what I think it does. Thinking in speculative scenarios and conspiracy theories, where data theft is merged with an actual theft, it is easy to imagine that someone replaces the iMessage app with another one with the same layout. While the user thinks she is sending pictures of clothes she bought on sale to her friends someone is actually targeting the user. This Bond-style scenario is gone too far for an average smartphone user, but at the same time there is no one hundred percent certainty that an activity tracker is nothing else but an activity tracker. If the device is sending direct feedback to a user’s body, it can possibly become a murder weapon.
I think it is safe to say that technologies used in warfare and espionage are way more advanced that anything released for public use, so we simply don’t know what’s on the market. You can catch a glimpse of U.S. Department of Defence technologies by browsing the DARPA Instagram
If I share one body with a computer, scam and malware are a whole new level of danger.
The process of leading to a desirable decision by hacking one’s behaviour is called nudging. This method is widely used in interface design — by looking closely it is easy to understand what kind of action the interface expects us to perform. For example, Facebook needs likes and comments to promote and score content. So the first feature under each post is a like button, and then comment and share. By sharing and commenting you put the post up in ranking. These buttons are located at such a position that they are noticeable and easy to press. If they were situated in a separate menu, likes wouldn’t have become the force moving Facebook. Unlike Facebook, Instagram doesn’t have the re-share button, and comments seem to be less important, while in Facebook the posts your friends have commented on would automatically be included in your feed (that’s why the interface automatically puts a user’s profile picture to an empty comment line, suggesting to “write a comment”). 33
Facebook bought Instagram in 2012, and in 2017 Instagram Introduced structuring comments into threads and added the option to “like” comments. Also, after Snapchat refused to be bought by Facebook in 2013, both Instagram and Facebook introduced “stories” in 2016 and in 2017 respectively. Adding Snapchat-like disappearing content is meant to prevent users from downloading Snapchat. To cut it short, everything is becoming like Facebook, or, everything is becoming Facebook.
Nudging is not only used as an element of interface design. The strategy is applied far more globally and in a variety of fields and situations. Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein listed numerous cases of nudging in their book Nudge: Improving Decisions about Wealth, Health and Happiness. One of the positive examples of nudging, according to the book, is placing healthy foods on a child’s eye level in a school canteen. Presented with the choice of healthy foods, kids select an apple instead of a candy bar. Starting with this example Thaler and Sunstein advocate nudging as a strategy of public and societal planning. Another example is encouraging people to donate organs after they die by simply making “donation” a default option. More people are becoming donors when they have to check the checkbox in case they don’t want to donate. As numerous studies found (also mentioned in the book), we tend to go with the default option, even if it’s not the best one. We succumb to inertia. So if donating is the default option, people will go for it. Donation is a positive example, but what if the default option is life-threatening? Not all the governments value the life of a single citizen.34
Thaler and Sunstein envision a society where governments and corporations are all interested in the benefits of their citizens and customers. I doubt this optimistic approach (not because I think corporations and governments are all totally evil). There is no way back from post-industrial societies, internet, smartphones,social networks, and what we call civilization in 2016. As an app aficionada, I don’t see the necessity to quit our tools. My concern is the efficient symbiosis of a human and a device: At the current stage we are still excited (the World Wide Web itself is younger than 30 years old, and the first-ever apps were published in the App Store in 2008, which is only 8 years ago) and assign human functions and qualities to our digital companions.
Personally I am interested in educating myself to use the present day technology wisely: to trust the tasks where it exceeds me and to let it empower my human qualities, instead of trying to fit to the machine way of thinking.I doubt nudging: How can you see any hidden strategy as a positive change? Nudging is powered by agreements: I want to run more, so I download an app which encourages me in a non-patronising way, we become friends. The software company gives insights about my running routine to a third party, possibly feeding it back to the app. I already trust the app, so there is no critical reflection on its behavior. Someone wants me to incorporate their product in my running, and the app is there to help.
To take the school canteen example: what if candy bar manufacturers have their own goals (and as every business they certainly do want to increase their sales), so they nudge the director: While apples are still presented at the child's eye level the candy bar manufacturer sponsors the soccer game and award the winning team with sweet treats. Maybe it is my background, which makes me mistrustful. As a person born in the former USSR and current Russian Federation's capital, I am taught not to trust institutions. Learning from history and the example of a government acquiring the character of a regime makes me question nudging on any level.
If not taking extreme examples such as an issue of freedom of choice under the regime, freedom of choice is still questionable on a basic level: every choice we make has a history of its creation. Thaler and Sunstein use the term “choice architect”. The person who places food in the canteen is our choice architect when it comes to choosing food. But so are our parents and friends, the neighborhood and the country, our mood and our news feed. We are not able to trace our choices to the initial trigger. And the ease of communication we acquire via our devices does not help to slow the pace and consider what is happening. Being constantly online and connected encourages people to favor fast decisions instead of contemplating a choice. How often we regret pressing the “send” button too early!
There are programs and applications, employed as personal assistants. Personal assistants are not something everyone can afford, but in the culture of high achievers people are so busy that it is necessary to have one. Resolving issues and managing routines with ease has become a requirement and created a whole new level of complex workflows. It takes time and effort to manage and plan, and these tasks are taken seriously.
The popularity of random generators comes as a counter-argument in this technological craziness. There are elements of interface design, entirely dedicated to creating serendipity — the famous “Shuffle” function is an example, or an option to read a random article on Wikipedia. In the environment which is so well customised for user’s needs, the elements of randomness are gone: no more zapping tv channels, no more radio stations, or playing all these songs you would never expect to hear.
Tools which are meant to structure and organize the process of choosing are becoming obstructions: it is harder to make a choice while being presented with so many options and possibilities to calculate the result. Making a solemn decision becomes a burden. The increasing notion of responsibility is frustrating.
People are tricked by the idea that the knowledge of a problem that a human mind cannot seize in one go can be compressed. A famous painting by Magritte states that it is not a smoking pipe. It is a painting. The canvas and layers of paint on it have nothing to do with smoking. A map of the world is nothing but a piece of paper with colors and lines and letters on it. But when we look at the map, we see continents and oceans.
We draw and imagine an ocean while filling in our agendas, planning our lives. Digital technology allows us to scale, and to drag and drop things in our oceans. One of the features of using applications for managing tasks and helping with choices is that the element of a game is introduced in the routine. Instead of thinking of the final goal the interface presents you the score. Information which would be difficult to digest otherwise is presented conveniently.
In her lecture Great design is serious, not solemn Paula Scher talks about the different levels of concentration. Being solemn, in her words, is completing a task with the idea of its importance in mind. It is like being an adult. But being absolutely serious is being immersed in the process as a child, immersed in a game.38
As a designer, I would be so so happy to follow Paula’s speech and to produce work in a joyful flow, but how to achieve the joyful flow when you constantly need to plan, schedule, write bills, have meetings, do tax reports, apply for visas etc…
Great design, she says, is achieved by being serious, and on a larger scale that means that we achieve our best results when we forget that we are playing the game, but adopt the game as a current state of living.
Designed to simplify our life, productivity and lifelogging tools also confuse the process of choosing and increase the amount of decisions we make without thinking. These systems execute a variety of tasks, following the concept of making users everyday life easy. A variety of tools keeps their user hydrated and fit, but also make them buy in one click and sign licence agreements without reading. As complex interfaces have moved to intuitive navigation and user-friendly experiences, the habit of thinking about the final purpose of navigation through a menu or choosing an option has become less important. Would lifelogging tools have been so widely popular if a user would have to open five menus in order to get to the one she needs?
It is possible that coexisting with machine intelligence means being guided and presented with ready-made options. In that perspective, randomness is liberating. It presents additional opportunities to satisfy our curiosity.
And you may find yourself living in a shotgun shack
And you may find yourself in another part of the world
And you may find yourself behind the wheel of a large automobile
And you may find yourself in a beautiful house, with a beautiful wife
And youmay ask yourself Well...
How did I get here?
Once in a lifetime, Talking Heads, 1980
In the end of this research I found myself in a strange position: looking forward to further developments in the field of AI and finding myself skeptical about my own enthusiasm at the same time.
Researching the milestones in the development of AI taught me that since the 1960’s AI has been trained to have conversations with a human, and to compete in games. Comparing the approach of biohackers with Donna Haraway’s cyborg manifesto allows us to understand the origins of data-driven lifestyle: It comes from technology enthusiasts on one side, and the values of capital and the need to compete on a job market on the other side. The desire to compete fuels the productivity race, and the fear of AI as our competitor makes people feel helpless.
The rising popularity of wearables and activity trackers increases the feeling that a human body “as is” is insufficient. These tools contribute to the feeling of insecurity not only by their presence in our lives, but also by the ways they operate: Lifelogging craziness can be seen as a never ending cycle — users track their health data in order to not get sick, because they need to stay healthy to be productive so they can work to afford this technology which helps them not to get sick...The culture of high achievers has no place for insecurity.
Interfaces of messenger apps make conversation with a human and conversation with a chatbot look alike. The need for constant interaction is partly created and partly managed by software — people talk to each other via applications, which are shaping the conversation in such a way that it is not that important whether there is anyone on the other side of the screen.
Yet, all the remote meetings on Skype are all held via video call. That proves that me and people in my professional filter bubble are still very much in need of recognizing ourselves as embodied individuals. What if our common realisation of embodiment is what makes Skype meetings efficient?
It could also be an AI. When real friends have their own lives to live, an invisible boyfriend is always online.
Fascination with technology and belief in its superiority is promising security, comfort, and ease. Trying to adopt the directness of a computer, like executing a script, we try to avoid doubting and feeling lost, which is an important part of creative process.
These tools present us with the overpowering idea of ease.
What does becoming one with a machine really mean? What stirs our curiosity and challenges us if everything is optimized? Is it because a human wants to become a machine, or because she wants to dissociate with her animal and organic origin?
Wealthy people of the first world, we consider ourselves advanced, but, sadly, owning expensive and smart devices does not stop us from feeling pain.
Technology defines what it means to be a human: is the human the one who doubts? The one who feels pain? The one who makes machines? We, humans, are all of that.
Two years ago, this text was supposed to end with a conclusion. Conclusion was meant to finalise the thesis so it could be submitted, graded, evaluated and left by its author – I had to move to the next project, severing the parts. This is not how writing works and this isn’t how I work either. Texts aren’t used to make work. There is a secret/separate life of text, when once written it starts the job, making you who you are, often with resistance. While working for you it enslaves you.
Some parts of this text are very naive, some are outdated. What I find interesting about texts living lives of their own is that they become demanding: to keep up, they need new insights, new observations, new references. They need new readers and new questions. Once the demands are satisfied, the cycle repeats. As a conclusion, I say that I prefer observations, notes and comments over conclusions anytime.
In 1982 Ridley Scott’s masterpiece “Blade Runner” 4 depicts a world where humans coexist with androids, manufactured by the powerful Tyrell corporation. The corporation's motto, “More human than human”, is a dream-come-true AI challenge: competing with a human player is an ultimate training playground for the development of artificial intelligence.
In 1997, a computer called Deep Blue defeated the reigning chess champion. In less than 20 years the next milestone in AI development was reached: in October 2015, Google’s AlphaGo defeated the reigning three-time European Go champion Fan Hui.
The difference between Deep Blue and AlphaGo is that the latter taught itself. Calculating the most efficient combination, as in chess, would not have been possible, since in the game of Go there are 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 possible positions.
In 2016, Demis Hassabis, the CEO of Google’s Deep Mind, published an article, explaining the process to a general audience: We built a system, AlphaGo, that combines an advanced tree search with deep neural networks. These neural networks take a description of the Go board as an input and process it through 12 different network layers containing millions of neuron-like connections. One neural network, the “policy network,” selects the next move to play. The other neural network, the “value network,” predicts the winner of the game. We trained the neural networks on 30 million moves from games played by human experts, until it could predict the human move 57 percent of the time (the previous record before AlphaGo was 44 percent). But our goal is to beat the best human players, not just mimic them. To do this, AlphaGo learned to discover new strategies for itself, by playing thousands of games between its neural networks, and adjusting the connections using a trial-and-error process known as reinforcement learning. Of course, all of this requires a huge amount of computing power, so we made extensive use of Google Cloud Platform.”
The way in which Hassabis formulates the goals AlphaGo is about to achieve can perfectly explain how AI can acquire a passion for competing. In his words, the goal is to “beat the best human players, not just mimic them”. To process this information as a non-scientist, I allow myself to generalize and conclude that Google is building an enormous artificial brain and teaching it to win at games, using games as a playground to train the superintelligence until it will be applied to solving “important real-world problems”.
In 1938, in Homo Ludens: a study of the play-element in culture, Johan Huizinga writes that as a game can be seen as a battlefield, the battlefield can also be seen as a game. According to Huizinga, playing games is fundamental for humanity and vital for animals: While human kids play with dolls and fake guns, kittens attack their toys and chase each other. Once a human grows old and becomes serious, activities which have no practical purpose become luxury. 6
So as a go player myself, I'm surprised you don't mention the significance of go as the oldest continuously played game in the world. I've heard that some people speculate that if there's intelligent life elsewhere in the universe they probably play something like go. Some discussion of go's history might enhance your point that it could be seen as foundational to the development of intelligence.
Thank you for the comment! As a non-player, I did not look into the value of go game while writing, but this is definitely an interesting point to revisit.
If our games carry our culture, will the AI obtain human values in the process of learning to play games?
I generalize again, but on purpose, because I like the idea of an AI trained to see “human values” as valuing victory over participation. It gives an accurate, and at the same time totally wrong impression: If playing games wasn’t “fun” (another abstract idea AI will probably learn), there would be no games at all. At the same time, the culture of high-achievers, to which I hope to belong, values victory more than anything else.
In the 1964 book Understanding Media, Marshall McLuhan wrote that all tools of communication are an extension of our body 7 . Counting all the technological development since the sixties, when the book was written, it is logical to think of a next step not as a further extension, but as a shift.
If the physical body is not a necessity anymore, what kind of functionality will define a human being and how we will make our intelligence stand out?
And is there a need to stand out?
We are Homo sapiens, “the wise men”, the people who know. Knowledge is subjective. On the other hand, the technology we have created with our wisdom, provides us with the objective information we are missing. With the idea of competition in mind, when the human is compared to a machine, the understanding of the strong points of humans as a species is not as strong as the understanding of their weak points. In the current intuitive and responsive digital workflow, computers trick humans into believing they are the same, and humans try to pick up the pace and to “adapt for the machinery” 8
The attempt to imagine the future network of organic and non-organic intelligences is not just a speculation. It is a tool, a filter, which helps to reflect on the ways in which people interact with their devices
There is more to it than just devices. There are devices, devices carry information, which is then stored as data, going in and out of the clouds.
at the present moment. With “body as an obstruction” as my starting point, I aim to uncover what contributes to this feeling of insecurity and why exactly the perspective of the rise of superintelligent AI makes embodiment feel like a disability. Are there any benefits of being a human within the physical body from the perspective of coexistence with superintelligent machines?
As a designer, I am conducting this research to challenge myself to think of an interface where a human and her machine work together as equal partners, counting on each other’s strengths.
The research question of this thesis is Why the perspective of coexisting with Artificial Intelligence creates an environment where living within the physical body is a disadvantage?
Online platforms such as Pinterest already give us advice on what to wear, what to cook, how to decorate our houses and many other topics. An example of embedding the non-curated selection in daily life is following trending topics on such online archives. Pinterest is a collection of boards where users “pin” contents from all over the web, creating a huge web archive.
One day a BuzzFeed journalist, named Rachel Wilkerson Miller, decided to live a week of her life, according to the “most popular” page on Pinterest. She wrote:
“Since its launch in 2010, Pinterest has earned a reputation as a site for Mormon housewives, mommy bloggers, and basic white girls. I am a woman of color with a full-time job, I spend less than 30 minutes getting ready in the morning, and I still like Pinterest. Characterizations of the site as a “a churning cycle of interest, hope, inspiration, jealousy, desperation, despair and depression” always irked me because I think Pinterest is a useful bookmarking tool. The site had never made me feel bad about myself. Then I discovered Pinterest’s “most popular” page, which is essentially a collage of white girls with impossibly great hair, superhuman nail art skills, and apparently enough free time to create a tidy basket of “postpartum supplies” for “every bathroom” in the house. Suddenly I could see where Pinterest got its reputation.”30
Designed as a bookmarking tool, Pinterest creates an image moodboard for a user based on her own interests, but since the online realm doesn’t include failures and disappointments as in the offline routine, it presents you an image of yourself (reflected in in interests), but better. If looking for a less personalised result in favour of understanding trends based on the content on the entire platform, one can check the “popular” pins and boards. Fitting in the online trend, Wilkinson Miller discovered that trending advice looks completely alien to her.
Until reading this article it never appeared to me that my personalized search does not give any idea of the main content of the resource. When I open the most popular pins collection on September 29, 2015, I saw a selection of DIY and handmade projects and felt like I’d just discovered a new online platform. My own feed consists of posters, vegan food, UX design and other things I find interesting. The world of face contouring and crocheted everything is as alien to me as to Wilkerson Miller, even though we are both Pinterest users. The Pinterest community feels non-curated and rather impersonal, but highly visually saturated — pinners form giant arrays of images, creating a collective (unconscious?) visual identity. Of course, trends emerge because many users like them, and that makes the sorting mechanism present them as popular. It is not the same as asking an app about what to do with your life.
One of the successful tips that Wilkerson Miller took from Pinterest was making salads in a jar. Mason jar salads used to be a hipster food, and maybe still are, but I do wonder if the amount of re-pins of the recipes and tutorials tricked the stores into adding salad jars into their assortment, and if the people who buy salad jars learned about the trend from Pinterest.
Previously I have mentioned ELIZA, a chat bot which simulated a human-human interaction. “The invisible boyfriend” 35 is an interesting example of further development in a concept of virtual presence. It is a human-to-human interaction which is curated by an interface. This service is created to satisfy the needs of people who, for various reasons, need to simulate being in a relationship. This service creates a realistic virtual presence and a detailed documentation of a non-existent relationship, so the client can make others believe that he or she is dating someone.
The curious detail of this app is the fact that although the search is automated both the client and the person who works as the “invisible boyfriend” are real people. The article “With Bots Like These, Who Needs Friends?” by Tim Moynihan of Wired explains the process and the history of creation of the Invisible Boyfriend:
“The concept is simple: You pay to bae. The apps are run by Matt Homann and Kyle Tabor, who cooked up the idea during a hackathon in 2013. The service began as a chatbot simulation wherein you would text a “boyfriend” or “girlfriend,” but now, actual
human beings are doing the talking. Tabor says more than 70,000 fake girlfriends and fake boyfriends have been created since the service launched in January, proving there is an economy of loneliness.
The basics to the service (picking a name, a photo, an age, etc) are free. If you want to take things any further, it’ll cost you. For $25 per month, you get 100 text messages, 10 voicemails, and a handwritten note from your fake boo. $15 per month gets you texts only.”
The initial idea of creating a chatbot didn’t create a convincing simulation, so the company hired real people through Crowdsource. According to the founders, currently there are over 600 people writing for the company.