Alexa does have a body - and it’s not Michael B Jordan’s

Aug 11, 2021

My friend Denise recently sent me the Amazon superbowl ad starring Michael B Jordan. Apparently it had been seen by 110 million people at the time.

But yes, I had missed it…

The ad is called “Alexa’s body”. Basically, it is about a woman imagining her Alexa lives inside the body of Michael B Jordan.

The ad is funny because it’s absurd.

We tend to think of AI systems like Alexa as highly abstract, mathematical and immaterial things floating in “the cloud”. Alexa then taking embodied form in Michael B Jordan becomes a joke that I’m sure sold many devices for Jeff Bezos…

But the truth is that Alexa does have a BODY.

And it’s not Michael B Jordan’s

(Sorry…).

Dr. Kate Crawford did a project back in 2018 together with Vladan Joder where they tried tracing what exactly made this type of tech work.

They ended up looking into ALL the components that went into the gadget:

  • Where were the chips produced?

  • Where were the metals mined?

  • How were they smelted?

  • How exactly did the supply chain look like?

They followed the device from cradle to grave and it was a VERY MATERIAL journey.

It started with drilling into the earth’s crust and ended in e-waste dumps in Ghana or Pakistan. Every step of the way there were human bodies and natural resources being used through multiple layers of contractors, distributors, and component manufacturers.

However we like to imagine that this is not the case.

That AI has nothing to do with human bodies or nature.

That our gadgets don’t need metals formed over billions of years and that “the cloud” really is a “cloud” (not a network of enormous energy consuming and very REAL factories).

This is a FALLACY that conveniently hides the environmental footprint of the system and all the forms of exploitation within it.

Kate Crawford’s point is that there’s nothing “artificial” about artificial intelligence:

“It comes from the most material parts of the Earth’s crust and from human bodies labouring, and from all of the artefacts that we produce and say and photograph every day.”

Well, there’s something to think about next time you see Michael B Jordan’s abs!

Happy Thursday!

Katrine

Ps. And check out Dr. Kate Crawford’s book!

 

 

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