Artificial Labor

A particular understanding of empowerment lies at the root of research into robotics and artificial intelligence. Freedom can, apparently, be engineered. Our cities, our houses, our surfaces are integrating automation so that we may purportedly become more autonomous. The all-encompassing digitization of everyday life currently underway still carries the holistic, just, and humanistic promise of a previous generation, yet the tendencies of its contemporary manifestations increasingly cast doubt on its fulfillment. Automated technologies have been deployed throughout the social and economic sphere since the dawn of modernity, obscuring a common emancipatory horizon by means of a double bind: by giving and taking, liberating and ensnaring, alleviating and obliging. Technological development has an inherently uncertain future, which places focus on the agents and mechanisms of its progress. Opportunity is not destiny, and history, as we know, can go any which way.

Machines have, we should not forget, long been a figure of the human, an analogue through which we can reflexively learn what it means to be human. Yet contemporary technology seems to have abandoned an ocular ethos of indexical referentiality in favor of a prismatic attitude of uncanny exuberance, challenging inherited epistemic foundations of knowledge, truth, certainty, value, and belief. The portraits being algorithmically manufactured today feel more real not because we give more to work with, but because more can be taken without our notice. Yet if we look beyond the self-image projected onto our retinas and focus our eyes on the surface of technology, what we can see is, at least upon first glance, a picture of the human at work. With the progressive advance of automation into dimensions of life previously unthought, relieving us of duties never before conceived of as such, technology has begun to map out and define the conceptual terrain of labor. We are the frontier. Have we not always been though?

Nick Axel
Nikolaus Hirsch
Christoph Thun-Hohenstein
Anton Vidokle
Marlies Wirth

Image Editor
Mariana Silva

Artificial Labor is a collaboration between e-flux Architecture and MAK Wien within the context of the VIENNA BIENNALE 2017 and its theme, “Robots. Work. Our Future."

Simone C. Niquille
Julia Powles
Italy’s New Rural
Harald Gruendl
Slaves and Masters
Andreas Rumpfhuber
Housing Labor
Bruce Wexler
About Tomorrow
Nick Axel, Nikolaus Hirsch, Christoph Thun-Hohenstein, Anton Vidokle, and Marlies Wirth
Mario Carpo

Mario Carpo is the Reyner Banham Professor of Architectural Theory and History at the Bartlett, University College London. Carpo's research and publications focus on the relationship among architectural theory, cultural history, and the history of media and information technology.

Harald Gruendl

Harald Gruendl works as a designer, design theorist and curator. He is the founder of the Institute of Design Research Vienna and is one of the three managing partners of the Viennese studio EOOS, where he works as a designer and leads the Basic Research department. He teaches design theory as well as design practice at several national and international universities.

Helen Hester

Helen Hester is Associate Professor of Media and Communication at the University of West London. Her research interests include technofeminism, sexuality studies, and theories of social reproduction. She is a member of the international feminist collective Laboria Cuboniks.

Axel Kilian

Axel Kilian is Assistant Professor at the Princeton University School of Architecture, where he started the research area of Embodied Computation, and jointly developed the new Embodied Computation Lab that opened in Spring, 2017.

Simone C. Niquille

Simone C. Niquille is a Swiss designer and researcher living in the Netherlands. Their studio Technoflesh investigates the representation of identity without a body, the digitization of biomass and the increasingly omnipresent optic gaze of everyday objects.

Julia Powles

Julia Powles is a Research Fellow at New York University and Cornell Tech, based in New York. Powles is a lawyer with a scientific background who has worked at The Guardian, WIPO, and the University of Cambridge. Recent papers include "Google DeepMind and healthcare in an age of algorithms" (2017) and "The case that won’t be forgotten" (2015).

Patricia Reed

Patricia Reed is an artist, writer, and designer based in Berlin. Her work concerns the entanglements between epistemology, diagrammatics and modeling with politics adapted to planetary scales of cohabitation. She is a member of the Laboria Cuboniks and Office for Applied Complexity working groups.

Andreas Rumpfhuber

Andreas Rumpfhuber is an architect and theoretitian whose work and research focuses on new forms of labour and housing. His most recent book is Into the Great Wide Open (dpr-barcelona, 2017).

Bruce Sterling

Bruce Sterling is an author, journalist, editor, and critic. He is best known for his ten science fiction novels, as a founder of the cyberpunk movement, and as the editor of the quintessential cyberpunk anthology Mirrorshades. His most recent book, Pirate Utopia (2016), is a collection of Italian fantascienza stories.

Bruce Wexler

Bruce E. Wexler is Professor at Yale University. Author of over 130 scientific articles, Wexler is a world leader in harnessing neuroplasticity to improve cognition through brain exercises. Wexler's book Brain and Culture; Neurobiology, Ideology and Social Change was published by MIT Press in 2006.


åyr is an art collective based in London whose work focuses on contemporary forms of domesticity. It was founded in 2014 by Fabrizio Ballabio, Alessandro Bava, Luis Ortega Govela, and Octave Perrault.

Artificial Labor 1–12 Contributors
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