Ghost Cut: Some Clear Pixels Amongst Many Black Boxes

video 22 min

This is a project where I attempt to understand the complexity of remote gig platform work from Amazon’s Mechanical Turk and focuses on an intentionally hidden and opaque space of labour and platform politics. The research – which spanned over two years – asks questions about postcolonial techno-realities, to the invisibility of precarious labour, to infusing individual experiences into conversations around globalised interconnected algorithmic governance, and finding concrete situations where we can witness what this looks like.

The project comprises of two videos, RISO prints, drawings and text (coming soon).

Ghostwork or crowdwork is a broad term to refer to intentionally hidden and opaque forms of labour. The way it is used here refers to a digital assembly line of distributed workers who can be accessed via online platforms such as Mturk, Crowdflower and Clickworker. Businesses and individuals who use these platforms to employ between one to thousands of people to complete work that software cannot do. The word ghost indicates that it is not just the physical absence of a person doing a particular job, but the pretense that such a person does not even exist; the silent laboring hand behind the magic of technology; the silence that requires spontaneity, creativity and cultural interpretation.

This film draws from conversations with Amazon Mturk workers and their relationship with the politics of the Mechanical Turk platform – the varying forms of transparencies and opacities that make the platform what it is. Focusing on the backend of AI and machine learning processes, the film investigates the relationships between the analogic, the digital and the terrestrial. What kind of work is required for smooth functioning of automation? Who does this backend work, where does it take place, and what does it entail? Using the very processes that workers help train on online platforms as material, recursions of different scales takes place, where we see language, the ability to define and speak clear English as central. A second focus is an exploration of the subjective nature of data gathering, processing and annotating, and the material infrastructures it is dependent on. In the absence of any fixed constants, context or averages, abstraction emerges as an important and forced tool.

In English, Tamil and Hindi. 22 min

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