IEEE Technology and Society Magazine - December 2019 - 11

Vincent Mosco

The Laboring of Artificial Intelligence
The Robotic Imaginary: The Human and the Price of Dehumanized Labor
By Jennifer Rhee. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2018, 226 pages

hen people think of
drones today, they
tend to conjure images of remotely-operated toys that make
for a fun day in the park, including
perhaps a video posted on YouTube
displaying what was captured by
the drone's camera. They might also
think about how drones will add
another convenience to our lives,
once Amazon and other technology
companies figure out how to deliver
our packages with these autonomous devices. They embody artificial intelligence (AI) in the service
of humankind. From the start of
this book, Jennifer Rhee, associate
professor of English at Virginia Commonwealth University, questions
this popular vision of drones by vividly describing how they are used in
modern warfare.
Starting with the view of a teenage boy who survived a drone attack
that killed his father and older brother and then from the perspective of
a drone operator who guides them
to their deadly destination, we learn
that drones are integral to combat
today - often reducing civilians, as
well as primary targets, to what is
now sickeningly called "heavy bugsplat." By beginning and ending her
book with the role of AI in today's
killing fields, Rhee not only draws
our attention dramatically to the

seriousness of the issues at hand.
She also makes clear that her book
is intended to counter dominant
utopian visions of a world filled
with AI. Rhee accomplishes this
by focusing on several important
ways AI contributes to the dehumanization of labor, including what
she calls care labor, thinking labor,
emotional labor, and killing labor.
By doing so, Rhee resists the temptation to eliminate the concept of
the human altogether, as followers
of transhumanist theory are keen
to do. Rather than lead to questioning our use of the term human, AI
should deepen the importance of
retaining it, if only to better understand what it means to use technology that threatens humanity.
Rhee's goals are hardly modest.
She aims to explore the mutual constitution of culture and technology,
as embodied in the robot, by bringing together "technology, literature,
popular fiction, science fiction, short
stories, films, and artworks." These
enable Rhee to examine the imaginary, or the cultural space occupied
by intelligent machines. Her goal is
to provide the reader with a more
complete vision of the robot and
the human. The deeper premise is
that culture and the humanities are
crucial means of understanding science and technology, particularly
their real world applications.
Examinations of the robotic imaginary have largely concentrated, as
Rhee rightly notes, on their role in

W

Digital Object Identifier 10.1109/MTS.2019.2948417
Date of current version: 2 December 2019

DECEMBER 2019

∕

IEEE TECHNOLOGY AND SOCIETY MAGAZINE

the workplace. Indeed, the origins of
the term "robot" lie in the 1920 play
R.U.R. (Rossum's Universal Robots)
by the Czech writer and critic Karel
Cˇapek. The word in Czech signifies
forced labor and drudgery. Much of
the research and commentary on
robotics and its role in society have
examined what machine labor can
accomplish and how society should
respond to the transformation robotics is bringing about in the workplace. Rhee proposes to expand on
this imaginary with a considerably
broader understanding of the robot
and its close ties to AI, by a detailed
examination of four features of the
robot that are often pushed to the
sidelines. She devotes one chapter
each to caring, in the context of
conversational AI - as in Siri and
Alexa; to thinking, in the context of
domestic labor; to feeling, as in the
emotional labor of sociable robots;
and, finally, to dying, with particular
attention to weaponized drones.
By focusing on these themes,
Rhee expands the robotic imaginar y and reconstructs its location
from the workplace to the fullness
of everyday life. It also enables the
book to shift the gender focus from
the association of robots with men
at work to one that accounts for the
positioning of women in the robotic
imaginary. Not so much a rethinking of gender and AI, it is more a
rediscovery and recovery of a gender story that is as old as the robot.
As she begins her exploration of the

11



IEEE Technology and Society Magazine - December 2019

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of IEEE Technology and Society Magazine - December 2019

Contents
IEEE Technology and Society Magazine - December 2019 - Cover1
IEEE Technology and Society Magazine - December 2019 - Cover2
IEEE Technology and Society Magazine - December 2019 - 1
IEEE Technology and Society Magazine - December 2019 - Contents
IEEE Technology and Society Magazine - December 2019 - 3
IEEE Technology and Society Magazine - December 2019 - 4
IEEE Technology and Society Magazine - December 2019 - 5
IEEE Technology and Society Magazine - December 2019 - 6
IEEE Technology and Society Magazine - December 2019 - 7
IEEE Technology and Society Magazine - December 2019 - 8
IEEE Technology and Society Magazine - December 2019 - 9
IEEE Technology and Society Magazine - December 2019 - 10
IEEE Technology and Society Magazine - December 2019 - 11
IEEE Technology and Society Magazine - December 2019 - 12
IEEE Technology and Society Magazine - December 2019 - 13
IEEE Technology and Society Magazine - December 2019 - 14
IEEE Technology and Society Magazine - December 2019 - 15
IEEE Technology and Society Magazine - December 2019 - 16
IEEE Technology and Society Magazine - December 2019 - 17
IEEE Technology and Society Magazine - December 2019 - 18
IEEE Technology and Society Magazine - December 2019 - 19
IEEE Technology and Society Magazine - December 2019 - 20
IEEE Technology and Society Magazine - December 2019 - 21
IEEE Technology and Society Magazine - December 2019 - 22
IEEE Technology and Society Magazine - December 2019 - 23
IEEE Technology and Society Magazine - December 2019 - 24
IEEE Technology and Society Magazine - December 2019 - 25
IEEE Technology and Society Magazine - December 2019 - 26
IEEE Technology and Society Magazine - December 2019 - 27
IEEE Technology and Society Magazine - December 2019 - 28
IEEE Technology and Society Magazine - December 2019 - 29
IEEE Technology and Society Magazine - December 2019 - 30
IEEE Technology and Society Magazine - December 2019 - 31
IEEE Technology and Society Magazine - December 2019 - 32
IEEE Technology and Society Magazine - December 2019 - 33
IEEE Technology and Society Magazine - December 2019 - 34
IEEE Technology and Society Magazine - December 2019 - 35
IEEE Technology and Society Magazine - December 2019 - 36
IEEE Technology and Society Magazine - December 2019 - 37
IEEE Technology and Society Magazine - December 2019 - 38
IEEE Technology and Society Magazine - December 2019 - 39
IEEE Technology and Society Magazine - December 2019 - 40
IEEE Technology and Society Magazine - December 2019 - 41
IEEE Technology and Society Magazine - December 2019 - 42
IEEE Technology and Society Magazine - December 2019 - 43
IEEE Technology and Society Magazine - December 2019 - 44
IEEE Technology and Society Magazine - December 2019 - 45
IEEE Technology and Society Magazine - December 2019 - 46
IEEE Technology and Society Magazine - December 2019 - 47
IEEE Technology and Society Magazine - December 2019 - 48
IEEE Technology and Society Magazine - December 2019 - 49
IEEE Technology and Society Magazine - December 2019 - 50
IEEE Technology and Society Magazine - December 2019 - 51
IEEE Technology and Society Magazine - December 2019 - 52
IEEE Technology and Society Magazine - December 2019 - 53
IEEE Technology and Society Magazine - December 2019 - 54
IEEE Technology and Society Magazine - December 2019 - 55
IEEE Technology and Society Magazine - December 2019 - 56
IEEE Technology and Society Magazine - December 2019 - 57
IEEE Technology and Society Magazine - December 2019 - 58
IEEE Technology and Society Magazine - December 2019 - 59
IEEE Technology and Society Magazine - December 2019 - 60
IEEE Technology and Society Magazine - December 2019 - 61
IEEE Technology and Society Magazine - December 2019 - 62
IEEE Technology and Society Magazine - December 2019 - 63
IEEE Technology and Society Magazine - December 2019 - 64
IEEE Technology and Society Magazine - December 2019 - 65
IEEE Technology and Society Magazine - December 2019 - 66
IEEE Technology and Society Magazine - December 2019 - 67
IEEE Technology and Society Magazine - December 2019 - 68
IEEE Technology and Society Magazine - December 2019 - 69
IEEE Technology and Society Magazine - December 2019 - 70
IEEE Technology and Society Magazine - December 2019 - 71
IEEE Technology and Society Magazine - December 2019 - 72
IEEE Technology and Society Magazine - December 2019 - 73
IEEE Technology and Society Magazine - December 2019 - 74
IEEE Technology and Society Magazine - December 2019 - 75
IEEE Technology and Society Magazine - December 2019 - 76
IEEE Technology and Society Magazine - December 2019 - 77
IEEE Technology and Society Magazine - December 2019 - 78
IEEE Technology and Society Magazine - December 2019 - 79
IEEE Technology and Society Magazine - December 2019 - 80
IEEE Technology and Society Magazine - December 2019 - 81
IEEE Technology and Society Magazine - December 2019 - 82
IEEE Technology and Society Magazine - December 2019 - 83
IEEE Technology and Society Magazine - December 2019 - 84
IEEE Technology and Society Magazine - December 2019 - Cover3
IEEE Technology and Society Magazine - December 2019 - Cover4
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/ieee/technologysociety_december2022
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/ieee/technologysociety_september2022
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/ieee/technologysociety_june2022
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/ieee/technologysociety_march2022
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/ieee/technologysociety_december2021
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/ieee/technologysociety_september2021
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/ieee/technologysociety_june2021
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/ieee/technologysociety_march2021
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/ieee/technologysociety_december2020
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/ieee/technologysociety_september2020
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/ieee/technologysociety_june2020
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/ieee/technologysociety_march2020
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/ieee/technologysociety_december2019
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/ieee/technologysociety_september2019
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/ieee/technologysociety_june2019
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/ieee/technologysociety_march2019
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/ieee/technologysociety_december2018
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/ieee/technologysociety_september2018
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/ieee/technologysociety_june2018
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/ieee/technologysociety_march2018
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/ieee/technologysociety_winter2017
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/ieee/technologysociety_fall2017
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/ieee/technologysociety_summer2017
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/ieee/technologysociety_spring2017
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/ieee/technologysociety_winter2016
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/ieee/technologysociety_fall2016
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/ieee/technologysociety_summer2016
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/ieee/technologysociety_spring2016
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/ieee/technologysociety_winter2015
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/ieee/technologysociety_fall2015
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/ieee/technologysociety_summer2015
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/ieee/technologysociety_spring2015
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/ieee/technologysociety_winter2014
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/ieee/technologysociety_fall2014
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/ieee/technologysociety_summer2014
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/ieee/technologysociety_spring2014
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/ieee/technologysociety_winter2013
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/ieee/technologysociety_fall2013
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/ieee/technologysociety_summer2013
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/ieee/technologysociety_spring2013
https://www.nxtbookmedia.com