Helena Hollis

Helena Hollis

Helena Hollis

Although I would usually describe myself as a graphomaniac, filling reems of notebooks, and generally the person who cracks her knuckles and bangs it out when someone demands a ten thousand word report by the end of the week, I have been procrastinating on making weeknotes since joining Connected by Data. My excuse it that is has taken me time to find my feet before turning my fingers to the keyboard, but I think I have also been enjoying a new kind of work which is about connecting with people rather than producing text outputs. But after a gentle nudge from Emily, here’s my first attempt at weeknoting.

Reconnecting with the AI and work discourse

A couple of years ago I worked on a project on AI and the future of work, and then only kept up with developments loosely. Now I’m at Connected by Data, I’ve been re-immersing myself, and finding surprises both in what hasn’t changed at all, and what has.

I think the “AI will free us from drudgery” narrative, promising an end to work with human beings instead free to pursue our creative capacities, has somewhat edged out of the limelight. And I am pleased to see the degradation of working conditions and worker lived experience getting more attention.

Perhaps the advent of generative AI in the headlines, and the impacts of this technology on the creative industries, is providing a wakeup call on which kinds of work the tech is taking over. I think this article on the contested ground of AI in the film industry points to ways in which work many of us would in fact wish to do, is being replaced and devalued.

A couple of years ago before generative AI made this more salient, I asked someone in a research interview why the automation of cars is such a high priority, as I don’t think driving is a particularly loathed activity most of humanity wants to be liberated from - I didn’t get an answer then, and what I think we are seeing now is a very clear direction in what kinds of work AI is being designed for.

Is there a pincer effect taking place where creative work is reduced and replaced, and labour is intensified? I’d be interested in exploring this more.

Things I’ve been reading

This Guardian article on Joseph Weizenbaum is an immersive read and made me reflect upon the characters that represent different perspectives on AI today. Incidentally I also read this piece on the eugenicists harboured in academia, and in conjunction these emphasised to me the importance of what kinds of people are included in conversations about data and AI.

I also finally watched “How to blow up a pipeline” (having read the book some time ago), and it reminded me I want to write something applying the same premise to the data centre. Hopefully my writing procrastination is now broken.

What I’m working on

The Open Government Partnership Summit will be taking place in Tallinn, Estonia, in the first week of September and I am working on our planned workshop. This has involved inviting various participants, planning what we want to learn from them, and finding venues. On the latter, it turns out Tallinn has some gems; conference in a dungeon anyone? Or a dance hall? Seeing the possible spaces has made me feel incredibly energised for running the event, and producing model commitments that governments could adopt on participatory data and AI governance.

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