Thinking about domestic service, bots and techno-racial categories

A new month, a new season for How We Get To Next. May is the month of the bot and the crew at HWGTN are looking for articles about the impact of this fascinating web tech which encapsulates, like no other, the frustrating contradictions of modern technology. Simultaneously an annoyance interrupting insightful socio-political online discussions with promises of earning £10,000 a month and the future of human-computer interactions, HWGTN are asking us to consider just how the era of bots will change our digital landscape:

  • How long will the transition to a conversational robotic utopia take? What’s the timeline of the near future?
  • From telegrams to emoji, technology has always changed how we speak. How will bots alter modern language? What new words will emerge?
  • What authority will bots have? Should they be able to argue with you if you’re making the “wrong” decision?
  • How can we reconfigure our economy to include unpaid robotic workers?
  • Why are our robotic assistants gendered?

Just as I was thinking about this new world of domesticated web-tech, up popped an article on “Yes Ma’am”, a documentary about domestic servants in 1980s New Orleans. I would highly recommend it, but this initial quote was what leapt out to me, saying so much as it does about the blinkers of privilege, human interactions and what it could mean for the way we see domestic technology (how sentient does a bot need to be before we pay them and what would that change? Will bots just end up as another racial class above black people?):

The conflation of employment with friendship is understandable when one considers the intimate terms on which the parties interact.

Food for thought. Go check it out.

Brenda Flora of the Amistad Research Center discusses the 1981 documentary Yes, Ma’am, a look at domestic service, labor, and race in New Orleans. The documentary was sponsored by the Amistad:

via NOLA Black Women and Domestic Service in Yes, Ma’am — Diaspora Hypertext, the Blog


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