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'A Brief Backward History of Automated Eloquence'

Commissioned by Cambridge Digital Humanities Labs, 'A Brief Backward History of Automated Eloquence' is a playful history of automated text generation, written from the perspective of the year 2070. 

Automation doesn’t just replace humans with robots. Automation transforms human practices, and in so doing, transforms what it means to be human, nonhuman, or inhuman. I am interested in this longer history of automation, including episodes and processes we may not today easily recognise as automation. How have we sought and managed opportunities for cognitive offloading, or for the experience of immersive flow or invigorating estrangement, from the predigital to the present? How have relationships with the infrastructural and the machinic changed relations among and within humans?

Instead of talking about being rescued or replaced by machines, we can talk about being augmented or reified. This is a language shift in the right direction. But it still risks failing to capture the iterative, reflexive qualities of automation: the way in which our agency continually re-designs itself. In other words, automation isn't just about new ways of producing or doing the things we want: it's about wanting new things, and new ways of wanting. This is why I am so interested in the automation of work, and how emerging and speculative worktech might contribute to the wellbeing economy.

But just as the boundaries between the human and the nonhuman are mercurial and negotiable, so too are the boundaries between work and nonwork. To take the automation of work seriously, we also have to think through the automation of nonwork. We are living through a moment of intensive automation of nonwork, confronting us with huge choices about how we will structure, visualise, interface with and immerse ourselves in data. We are already surrounded by the automation of artistic and cultural production (including the proliferation of digital tools and engines); of civic life (including the encroachment of chatbots and other autonomous agents into democratic processes); of the public sphere (including the algorithmic curation of news and social interaction); of leisure and consumption (including the use of predictive analytics in developing and marketing leisure activities); and more broadly, the automation of the faculties of reason, perception, and feeling with which we distinguish or blur work and nonwork in the first place. 


@closeroboreadin, teaching a poetry seminar

@spangletoes, a poet and part of a work-in-progress

Automation and AI: Services
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