[-empyre-] Introducing Machine Dreams Contributors: Ana Monroe and Jenny Rhee!

Ana Monroe ana at anamonroe.com
Fri Jun 2 08:07:39 AEST 2017

Hi All -

@Margaret - thanks for this additional prompt...I'm finding this
conversation and process extremely intellectually exercising. Please find
below my reply. There's a lot in there. These are high level, unpolished
thoughts. I would love to hear replies or generation from them. Let me

@Jenny - You're correct: so much of the work of Industrial Designers
focuses on how people humanize objects, so that is the angle from which I
speak.  As an example, look at any car you can see on the street as you're
outside today: the front and the back are designed in "faces". The lights
are the eyes; the bit surrounding the lights are the eyelids...the grill is
the nose...the bumper is the mouth - that's intentional. Designers try to
design things to look like humans because humans like to see humans. It
makes people say "hey- that looks friendly/fierce/fast/fun"; they assign
human attributes to the products. It's a strategy for creating emotional
connections between people and product.

I agree - we have much in congruence between our work! So interesting...

In answer to Margaret's question regarding design - labor -fiction, I wrote
from the assumption that labor and technology grow ever closer together. In
addition to its historic use in automating labor, current technology also
makes the sourcing of human labor increasingly rapid as well as creating
new sectors of labor (AI systems, other artificial, semi-sentient beings).
I chose to confront these phenomena through fictive narrative because the
multi-stranded nature of the narrative format allows me to explore the
interplay of these trends in a way that logical, linear, academic analysis
could not.

As Jenny points out, for me, the Big Dog project and ones similar to it
bring to the fore the moral and ethical questions surrounding the treatment
and application of these beings. In my work, the personal assistants (PAs),
Howie, belonging to Freddie, and the unnamed Hex, owned by Rachel, are the
machines through which this new type of labor and the relationships therein
play out.

In my piece, I discuss the labor-technology interplay at a couple of
points. It didn't appear in the excerpts, but both Rachel and Freddie are
the type of tenuous, freelance labor that we see disrupting traditional
labor markets currently. Although not seeking to pass judgement on the
"agile" labor market of freelancers, it was important to me to call out in
the narrative the dishumanity of this model, insomuch that neither Rachel
nor Freddie have any direct contact with their employer or each other aside
from their trip to Darling. There are no relationships there, only the
transaction of labor-for-money.

Reaching past human-human relationships and into the human-robot
relationship, Freddie and Rachel interact with their semi-sentient PAs in
the classic ownership paradigm. Essentially, they treat their PAs in the
same way the fictitious Chevy Silverado driver in my previous post treats
the truck: as possessions to be used according to the owner's wants.
However, I conclude that this paradigm of ownership is inadequate. The
semi-sentience of the PAs (or Big Dog) combined with the human attributes
assigned to them by the humans surrounding them mean that a the possession
paradigm breaks down. How does a human "owner" of a semi-sentient
intelligent being behave towards that's being? Because Howie, the Hex, and
Big Dog are no longer products like a Chevy Silverado, even though, as
discussed Jenny's piece, non-sentient beings such as Silverados can and do
carry emotional, human weight for humans. Nor are they a horse, a mule, or
a dog. They're something new entirely. This new actor in the labor market
requires the creation of a unique, unexplored robot-human-labor paradigm
that is extends the classical human-animal-civilization complex to
encompass beings who, though technically exist to serve humans, possess
some animal attributes, like the ability to produce and store emotions like
pain and pleasure but do not have other animal attributes (at least in the
present trajectory of AI), such as those abilities to age or reproduce.


On Wed, May 31, 2017 at 5:25 PM, J. Rhee <rhee.jennifer.s at gmail.com> wrote:

> Ana and Margaret, thank you for your thoughtful musings! Ana, I love how
> you described your goal for your story as focused on relations (between
> humans, between humans and machines, etc.). That resonates with how you
> read Margaret’s wonderful poem, as well as Big Dog and the Chevy Silverado.
> I also was struck by the presence of “nature" in your story and its complex
> relation to both the ReelCover technology and the characters, whose
> attention the aloe plant, cicadas, the wind, the “tomato and
> persimmon”-colored night, the trees and the fog, seems very intentional.
> I’m also concerned with relationality, including those uncovered by, as
> you mention, examining objects’ discreet histories. I’m quite fascinated by
> our different disciplinary perspectives. If I understand you correctly Ana,
> your work as an industrial designer points you to how humans humanize
> objects. As a literary scholar who took a deep dive into robots in
> technology and culture (and this is in response to Margaret’s question), my
> work on robots ended up highlighting how humans dehumanize humans. I think
> these may be two sides of the same coin! In my book, I argue that
> anthropomorphic paradigms that centrally organize AI and robotics research
> in conversation with forms of devalued labor. So for example I examine
> disembodied conversational machine intelligence and its entanglement with
> care labor, embodied robotics and domestic labor, and emotional robotics
> and emotional labor, and armed military drones as the labor of racial
> dehumanization. So for me, labor is central to thinking the robot. Big Dog
> is an interesting case, because unlike most of the robots I discuss, which
> are explicitly modeled on the human (or rather, a specific conception of
> the human), Big Dog is modeled on an animal. So I think it tells us
> different things about how we labor and who we dehumanize. As Ana
> mentioned, humans’  treatment of robots like Big Dog speak to dominance,
> kindness, and cruelty. I think Big Dog’s designed functions for the
> military (carrying large loads, regaining its balance on uneven terrain)
> also speak to how this work is valued. Which human occupations and
> practices are targeted for automation, which are not, and what does that
> say about how society values this work and those who perform it. Often,
> occupations that are automated are often significantly held by women and
> racial-ethnic minorities.
> An interesting, and slightly unrelated addendum to Big Dog. Apparently,
> the U.S. military has lost interest in the robot because it’s too loud, and
> thus could be a strategic liability in the field.
> Jennifer Rhee
> Assistant Professor
> Department of English
> Media, Art, & Text Ph.D. Program
> Virginia Commonwealth University
> On May 30, 2017, at 2:09 PM, Margaret J Rhee <mrhee at uoregon.edu> wrote:
> Hi Jenny and Ana!
> Many thanks for your responses, and your contributions to the Zine! It is
> so generative to think of your two pieces in conversation with one another,
> and while I would not have immediately thought, it really bears interesting
> questions of labor, aesthetics, and practice. I wanted to go back to
> Jenny's point about robots and labor, and I wondered if you both could
> speak to some of the ways the traditions of labor, such as literary
> scholar, and as industrial designer, and delving into robotics, and in
> Ana's case, into fiction to render these ideas possible. Moreover, how does
> labor run through the subject of your pieces as well, I immediately think
> of Big Dog, and the transgressions of robotic art.
> best,
> Margaret
> On 2017-05-29 10:51, Ana Monroe wrote:
> Hi All!
> Thanks again for including me in this exciting discussion. I apologize
> for my delay in reply; this discussion week caught me in the beaches,
> boulder fields, and bogs of Iceland, where I was participating in an
> annual feminist engagement with a small group of long time friends and
> collaborators. Needless to say, while this this environment was
> stimulating, exciting, and fascinating (we talked a lot about Earth
> Sciences), it was not conducive to replying to emails in a timely
> manner.
> I've often reflected on the humanization that people foist onto robots
> and machine aids. I found this resonant with both Jenny's work, Petit
> Mal, as well as in Margaret's work, Algorithm Beam. In the latter, I
> found myself in the position of the poet. When reading, I see my
> child, my program, in the work. I lovingly write the little,
> proscribed language that, when read in sequence, can deliver to me a
> great delight: a red light, just as I told her to do! A command
> fulfilled; I am satisfied. She's so filial, my child. But in the
> moment following the moment of triumph, I find myself disappointed as
> well: a daughter who only does what I say? That is so lonely, so
> narcissistic, so limited-to-myself. I have never wanted a child in my
> own image.
> In my read, Jenny's study of Big Dog enters the machine-human
> interaction into a couple ancient conversations. The first two in my
> mind are (1) servant-master relationship and (2) the
> human-animal-civilization complex. In regards to (1), if a person owns
> a thing, is it a crime to abuse it, physically? If it damages the
> thing to kick it, or to drive it until its parts fail, can the person
> be held responsible? Current society draws the line as sentience,
> speaking to point (2). As an example, if a person drives a Chevy
> Silverado until it comes apart, then it not a crime. If a person
> drives a horse or mule or dog until it is lame or dies, then yes, it
> is a crime. Big Dog uses reasoning so advanced that it could appear to
> be sentient.  Does that advanced reasoning / mimicked sentience mean
> it should not be beaten, kicked, or driven until it falls apart? I
> would answer no. But my answer isn't couched in an explicit concern
> for Big Dog as equivalent to a real dog.
> It is, instead, couched in my concern for the human resultant from the
> humanity that has most likely been imposed on Big Dog by its humans. A
> human who finds that they have driven their Chevy Silverado to the
> point that it comes apart will often express emotional distress
> similarly to those expressed at the loss of an animal like a horse,
> mule, or dog. A human who abuses a thing like Big Dog may not be
> hurting a real dog, but may be hurting himself or others around him
> with his cruelty to this non-sentient but emotionally laden object. A
> conclusion that then leads me to reflect on the necessity of
> considering objects as having discreet and staggeringly important
> histories, which which Jenny referred at the latter end of her piece.
> Petit Mal was really such an interesting piece of writing. Thank you
> so much for sharing this.
> In answer to Margaret's question, my interest in robots stems from my
> formal and informal study of (1) as an industrial designer, the
> humanization of objects on the parts of humans and (2) as a historian,
> the economic impact of technological access across societies. As
> someone from a rural area, I can trace in my personal history the
> points at which access to technology divided me from childhood
> friends, shifting the trajectories of our lives away or towards each
> other. Formalizing this study during my graduate work in Uganda, I
> find that one of the more understudied and interesting aspects of the
> current technological paradigm is the uneven distribution of
> technology - not just luxury technology - but work-a-day or simple
> technology, across populations.
> The practice of imaging the near future and its technological
> a-symmetry in the form of a short story actually came quite naturally
> to me. Short stories have often been vehicles for criticism and
> satire, and I explicitly wanted to avoid taking on a technologically
> rigorous approach so as to talk about the relationships humans have
> with each other, with non-sentient machine objects, sentient beings,
> quasi-sentient beings, and artificial, non-machine sentient beings. In
> the story, I wanted to produce a binary in which two societies are
> tied together in political and economic name but are extremely divided
> in practice. How will these societies use technology differently from
> one another? What values will be foregrounded by interpretation and
> how will those values differ across the societies in question?
> In contrast to this comfortable-to-me approach to examining these
> topics through short story in my thesis, I found the process of
> choosing the excerpts for the Zine quite terrifying. Because I wish to
> discuss things that are not quite nice and because short stories are
> packed with topics, cutting any one out threatened to deflate or
> flatten the story. I'm not entirely sure I made these excerpts
> correctly. I'm still conflicted. But I think that the practice of
> having to select was good for me in terms of developing as a writer.
> Having to make decisions, to make cuts, caused me to see the story in
> a new light and to choose to foreground episodes which, in the larger
> structure, I could blend together.
> A
> On Sat, May 27, 2017 at 2:32 PM, J. Rhee <rhee.jennifer.s at gmail.com>
> wrote:
> I’m excited to be joining such a great conversation! Thank you for
> facilitating this, Margaret! I love Keith’s “Uncanny Emmett
> Till” piece and his discussion of the valley as justification for
> the inhuman. I totally agree! The uncanny valley and other
> “tests” that define the human are often mobilized to de-humanize
> certain people. This also resonates with Mark’s thoughts on the
> chatbots and intersectionality.
> To respond to Margaret’s question, I first became interested in
> robots as a when I met the robot Leonardo at a robotics lab at MIT.
> Leonardo looks like a cute, cuddly stuffed animal with very
> expressive facial features and small, pink human-like hands. It
> looks a lot like a gremlin before it gets wet. As I was standing
> face-to-face with this robot, I was really arrested by it and all
> the complicated ways it was evoking and inscribing the human. I felt
> very compelled to explore these inscriptions from within the
> humanities. I felt this urgency even more strongly when I began
> researching the Department of Defense’s significant role in
> funding U.S. robotics research (including Leonardo, as well as
> Predator drones). My interest in robotic art comes from my desire to
> look for different robotic imaginaries (with their different funding
> structures and strategic priorities) that offer different visions of
> the human and possible futures outside of militarization (for
> example, the pieces in the _Machine Dreams Zine_!). I’m interested
> in how the robot inscribes certain visions of humanness and erases
> others, particularly in relation to race, gender, class, and
> citizenship. Or in other words, I’m interested in how the robot
> reflects larger societal practices of dehumanization. Speaking to
> Margaret’s question about revising, the further I got into my
> research on robots, the more I kept coming back to labor as the site
> where robots humanized and dehumanized. Robotic art plays with this
> attachment to labor in productive ways that at times reflects these
> attachments and at other times challenges them.
> all best,
> Jenny
> Jennifer Rhee
> Assistant Professor
> Department of English
> Media, Art, & Text Ph.D. Program
> Virginia Commonwealth University
> On May 26, 2017, at 3:31 PM, Margaret J Rhee <mrhee at uoregon.edu>
> wrote:
> Hi All,
> These conversation has been so generative, thanks everyone! Buoyed
> by all the very exciting work, and appreciate Keith and Sun Yung's
> insights, and joining the dialogue! To add to Keith and Sun Yung's
> wonderful contributions, I'm pleased to introduce two more
> participants from the Zine, Ana Monroe and Jenny Rhee!
> Ana Monroe is a designer and writer, and her inventive short
> fictional piece, Les Futures Flanuers, drawn from her MFA thesis
> at Art Center College of Design is on page 36.
> As a scholar, Jenny Rhee's moving piece, "Petit Mal,
> Proprioceptive Precocity, and Robotic Futures," on Big Dog, and
> other robotic art is excerpted from her forthcoming monograph, and
> included in the Machine Dreams Zine, page 45.
> Check out their respective work here:
> https://issuu.com/repcollective/docs/machine_dreams_issuu [1]
> Their bios are below.
> To begin, like Sun Yung and Keith's exciting work on cyborg
> poetics and worlds, could you both speak on the inspirations
> behind your research on robots, and fiction writing? More
> specifically, I understand that both of your excerpts drew from a
> dissertation and a thesis, and I wondered if you could reflect on
> the process of revising into another form that was published in
> the Zine, and in your larger body of work?
> ------
> Jenny Rhee
> Jennifer Rhee is an assistant professor of English at Virginia
> Commonwealth University. Her book, All Too Human: Labor and
> Dehumanization in the Robotic Imaginary (forthcoming, University
> of Minnesota Press, 2018), examines cultural forms and
> technologies to highlight the robot's entanglement with
> dehumanization and devalued labor. Her work has appeared or is
> forthcoming in venues including Camera Obscura, Configurations,
> Postmodern Culture, Mosaic: A Journal for the Interdisciplinary
> Study of Literature, and Thresholds. She is working on a new book
> on counting technologies and practices, from the emergence of
> statistics to contemporary digital surveillance. Bringing science
> and technology into conversation with artistic and literary works,
> this book examines who determines what counts, who constitutes the
> uncounted or the uncountable, and who is all too readily counted.
> Ana Monroe
> One year after earning her Modern History A.B. from Columbia
> University in 2004 and following a quick stint as a translator at
> the first Apple Store in the world (Soho, New York), Ana began her
> design training by jumping into the creative role of Prop Stylist
> for Still Photography projects. In this position, Ana was
> responsible for the physical elements of the shoot: the props, the
> sets, the fabricated, and the found.Moving quickly into Production
> Design for both larger scale Stills projects as well as Motion
> Picture, Ana led the Art Department section of movie making.
> As a Production Designer, Ana worked closely with the Director and
> Director of Photography to bring a script off the page. Research
> into the visual languages of diverse groups and historical
> periods, ethnographic inquiries, and sheer imagination all combine
> to form identity of a production. The practical side of both
> Styling and Designing required the development project management
> skills. She created and managed budgets, schedules, and personnel.
> The scope of this role honed not only the ability to conceptualize
> and produce myriad design styles, but also that of visualizing and
> evaluating options, managing teams, and growing client
> relationships.
> She applied and was accepted with an Honors scholarship to the
> award winning Media Design Practices Department at Art Center
> College of Design in 2014. Working in the field with UNICEF as
> part of her 2014-2015 year, Ana quickly gained praise for her self
> directed technology projects with Luzira Primary School as well as
> her evaluations of UNICEF’s MobiStation and ICT projects.
> During her 2015-2016 thesis year, she received both Honors and
> Thesis Awards and worked with advisors such as BMW DesignWorks
> lead Mike Milley and Art Center College of Design's DesignMatters
> Chair Mariana Amatullo. She is now a Service Designer leading
> multiple projects from The Innovation Lab at OPM, detailed to the
> Office of Veterans Experience at the Department of Veterans
> Affairs.
> --
> Margaret Rhee, Ph.D.
> Visiting Assistant Professor
> Women's and Gender Studies
> University of Oregon
> --
> Ana Monroe
> www.anamonroe.com [2]
> [3]  [4]
> [5] [6]
> Links:
> ------
> [1] https://issuu.com/repcollective/docs/machine_dreams_issuu
> [2] http://www.anamonroe.com
> [3] https://www.linkedin.com/in/anamonroe
> [4] https://twitter.com/aanatecture
> [5] https://www.pinterest.com/anatecture/
> [6] https://instagram.com/anatecture/
> --
> Margaret Rhee, Ph.D.
> Visiting Assistant Professor
> Women's and Gender Studies
> University of Oregon

Ana Monroe
<https://www.linkedin.com/in/anamonroe>  <https://twitter.com/aanatecture>
<https://www.pinterest.com/anatecture/> <https://instagram.com/anatecture/>
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