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Two very different kinds of thoughts were running through my mind on the way to Leipzig to the BMW factory and on the way back. On the way there, I was thinking about how and why factories are relevant to the study of artificial intelligence in autonomous vehicles, the subject of my PhD; and on the way back I was thinking about the work of Harun Farocki, the German artist and documentary filmmaker who left behind an astonishing body of work, including many films about work and labour. These two very different thought-streams are the subjects of this post about the visit to the factory. They don’t meet at neat intersections, but I think (hope) one helps “locate” the other.

BMW is a German car company that is working on ‘highly automated driving‘ (although the Leipzig factory we visited isn’t making those cars at present). I’m doing a PhD that will – someday – suggest how to think about what ethics means in artificial intelligence contexts, and will do so by following the emergence of the driverless car in Europe and North America. One part of what I’m doing considers a dominant frame that has emerged around ethics in the driverless car context: ethics-as-accountability. In the search for the accountable algorithm in driverless cars of the future, I went to the BMW factory to see where the car of the future will come from. Who, or what, must be added to the chain of accountability when the driverless car makes a bad decision? Who, or what, comes before and around the software engineer who programs the faulty algorithm? more...

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Pundits across the political spectrum have expressed outrage at Trump’s continued insistence that the presidential election is rigged, and seem quite scandalized at his stated unwillingness to agree, apriori, to accept the final results.  Trump’s critics argue that his distrust of the election process threatens to destabilize U.S. democracy by undermining the ideology of citizen-driven governance. It is horrifying they say, and more than that, his claims are dangerous.

While a smooth transition of power is indeed a hallmark of democracy, there is a distinct disingenuousness about the breathless moralizing against Trump’s claims. It’s hard to ignore the sharp dissonance that emerges when broadcast journalists report on the economics of campaign finance, the political collusion and corruption revealed through an email leak, and then, without even the interruption of a commercial break, turn to Camera 2 and condemn Donald Trump for questioning the integrity of the democratic process.   more...

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In 2014, a stalwart of the WarCraft III community passed away. SySShark, by any account, was the heart of a top American community forum called WCReplays.com, which dedicated itself to the coverage and community of the WarCraft III international scene . The game lost steam after the release of StarCraft II; the forums now are smaller than they once were. But the servers and forums are still robust with activity from people across the world. Even people who had not posted in years came back to this thread in order to offer their memories and regret for his passing. 
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Just a quick note to commemorate the 6th birthday of Cyborgology. We’ve gone from a small band of grad students to a slightly larger band of grad students (and faculty) who live all around the world.  We’ve covered everything from the (probably) last presidential election to the resurgence of memes as a cultural object worthy of careful dissection and analysis (admit it—people were barely talking about those things for like a year or something).

We are proud to announce several new contributors to the blog, all of whom have been writing all month without a proper introduction:

And of course Britney Summit-Gil has been keeping track of the election and most recently wrote about all the tech around controlling people through controlling menstruation. Click on everyone’s names to get a list of everything they’ve written for the blog and be sure to check out the editors and authors page to read more about them. We are also looking forward to a few new regular by lines in the near future including Maya Indira Ganesh and Gabriele de Seta.

Your editors have been very busy as well! Jenny has taken a job at Australian National University and David earned his PhD last summer and is doing a bunch of different academic odd jobs. Co-Founder Nathan Jurgenson is crushing it with his new publication, Real Life Mag and PJ Patella-Rey is in the final stretch of dissertating.

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[Caveat: The discourse around bodies with uteruses is most often framed in cis-sexist binaries of women and men. The essay below is an analysis of that discourse, and as such occasionally slips into this language to accurately present the arguments therein. Trans and non-binary people are notably missing from this discourse. I’ve tried to avoid cis-sexism where possible.  Comments and criticisms are welcome whether in the comment section or by writing to me/messaging me on Twitter: @bsummitgil. I hope I have done this conversation justice.]

You may have seen the recent hubbub about 19 year old self-proclaimed meninist Ryan Williams, who recently declared that women should just hold their menstrual blood in. Specifically, they should just keep that nasty stuff in their bladder until they get to a toilet. The argument was primarily an economic one: women do not deserve free tampons (though his response was actually in regards to the movement to end taxes on tampons, not to make them free). If women are so weak that they cannot hold in, they should see a doctor to have a “procedure” that will give them the “self control” they need to stop using menstrual products, as any demand to reduce the cost of these products makes them “cheapskates.”

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In March 2013, at Microsoft’s annual research and development event TechFest, a new project was introduced that aimed to let “users interactively explore the full chain of events whereby individual news stories, videos, images, and petitions spread from one user to the next over a social network.” The program, in effect, aims to understand how content spreads through a social network such as Twitter. By aggregating large amounts of data and tracking how users share things on their Twitter accounts, ViralSearch turns the transmission of content into a visually friendly genealogy of media, which Microsoft terms its “virality.” The more descendants a video has, for example, meaning those who have shared it (which is broken up into generations, or subsets of users that represent one wave of shares) the more viral it is according to ViralSearch’s virality percentage. More than this, it actively differentiates between virality and popularity, by looking precisely at how the information is shared. As researcher Jake Hofman says,

This is what people sort of typically have in their mind when they think about one of these viral videos, but nobody’s really been able to actually look at the structure of these things to date. And so what we’re able to do is going through these billions of events we reconstruct these trees by looking at all the followers of everyone who adopts the content and using a large cluster to reconstruct these things and then a novel scoring method to actually distinguish this tree as being viral from just being popular.

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pegida-anti-immigrantThe presence of white nationalism has been well explored in the run-up to this election, with the alt-right breaking onto the global stage of mainstream media publications. Yet there has been little consideration of the theory of ‘white genocide’ – a recent George Washington study on the Twitter lives of white nationalism and ISIS found that in the case of both Nazis and other white nationalists, white genocide was the 10th most popular hashtag. Whilst it seems unusual for white nationalists and neo-Nazis to place themselves in the position of weakness, the concept of white genocide is not new. Its dissemination, however, reveals the disturbing dangers of the narrative conventions of the hashtag. more...

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On the second day of Rosh Hashanah, the rabbi at my synagogue gave a sermon about four themes, all of which he felt needed addressing when there was a larger crowd than usual (though, it should be noted, the sanctuary was sparsely filled, especially compared to the SRO crowd the day before): racism, sexism, anti-semitism, and “the war on science.” As he recited off his list, the first three items made perfect sense to me; I was even proud to hear him cover current events like the Black Lives Matter movement and Donald Trump’s misogyny and how they are understood within Jewish tradition (hint: the first one’s good, the second one’s bad). That fourth item, though, piqued my curiosity a bit.

Since when did a war on science begin? Is it like the ill-fated War on Drugs? Or the ill-fated War on Terror? Or the ill-fated War on Poverty?

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Credit: /u/megapenguinx

When I first encountered the subreddit me_irl it was, in general, about two things: anxiety and communism. I hit the subscribe button so fast I sprained my finger. Since then, me_irl has changed a bit, though anxiety and communism are still central topics. But over the last year or so, the sub has become a bit more… meme-ey. Or may may-ey, depending on your dialect. Me_irl has increasingly consolidated around short-lived memes, and in June /u/thoompa noticed that memes had a shelf life of approximately one month. Thus was born the “meme of the month” idea, and all through September some great memes lived high on the hog, getting large numbers of upvotes and creating a self-referential circle jerk that gave new texture to the sub.

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Credit: /u/thoompa

But then, tragedy struck. For the first six days in October, no memes rose to preeminence. It became known as the Great Meme Drought of October, when chaos reigned and dankness was few and far between. Some users tried to prop up The Bear In The Big Blue House as the new MotM, but others saw this as farce, for that meme was not fresh enough. Then, the skeletons arrived, thus sparking the Great Meme Civil War of 2016.

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Credit: /u/Fyrus93

But out of this chaos, a curious thing happened. A deluge of memes flooded me_irl. One day, it was Goosebumps, the next The Crusade and trebuchets, then Bionicle and Ken Bone and on and on. A new meme came to power each day, mirroring the instability that has followed civil wars throughout history. Some found it frustrating—they couldn’t keep up, the memes were changing too rapidly. Some said they were low-quality Facebook memes. But others heralded it as The October Meme Renaissance of 2016. more...

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On May 13, 2016 the Obama administration issued a letter of guidance concerning the protection of gender identity in school housing, restrooms, and locker room facilities under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. The letter was largely seen as a reaction to a March 2016 law passed in North Carolina, HB 2 – Public Facilities Privacy and Security Act, which limited public restroom use to one’s assigned at birth gender. On August 21, 2016, however, a Texas U.S. District judge blocked the federal government from implementing that directive, instead arguing that Title IX aimed to “protect students’ personal privacy, or discussion of their personal privacy, while in the presence of members of the opposite biological sex.” The district court applied a similar logic to HB 2 in arguing that gender identity was strictly “biological” (e.g., what one’s birth certificate says).

The district court ruling, in line with several others this year, relies on and perpetuates a number of transphobic beliefs which seem apropos to mention here, namely: a normalized definition of biological sex, the notion of trans bodies as illegible, impure, or incomplete, the forced hypervisibility of trans bodies through constant surveillance, the public fixation on genitalia as a ‘true’ indicator of gender identity, and the displacement/occlusion of responsibility for anti-trans violence. It is, in particular, the contemporary mobilization of a politics of shame, manifest through the aforementioned practices, however, that I would like to hone in on.

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