Woman holding a book in a bookshop.

Finally I can share what I’ve been working on! I absolutely loved writing this book, taking the time to dig deep into histories, ideas and theories that I think really help understand how machine vision technologies like facial recognition and image generation are impacting us today. I wanted the book to be fun to read while bringing out theoretical insights. So it’s full of stories. I tell you about some of them in this unboxing video!

Some of the stories are from my own life – about living in Oak Park just outside Chicago while they were debating the introduction of more surveillance, for instance, and understanding how deeply fear plays into the desire for surveillance.

My own transition from naive outsider who blithely took public transport and walked after dark to actually being afraid for my safety and the safety of my loved ones was an intense experience, and the chapter about this is an example of how affect and embodied experiences can impact research. Writing the first draft of that chapter was almost a form of therapy. I chopped out 2/3 of what I’d written, leaving mostly analysis, but some affect and fear remains. Perhaps I could have left even more of the affect in there?

Another story is about our robot vaccuum cleaner, Alfred, and how he might “see” the world”. Yes, I know, it’s a bit silly, but my family and I imagine Alfred as having not only a personality and a gender but also a kind of agency as he scuttles around cleaning our floors and sending us photos of things he’s scared of bumping into. The thing is, there’s a reason why people tend to do this with technology like Alfred – we’re not the only family to have named our robot vacuum cleaner… In the book I analyse what that agency and how perception (even just of things-that-obstruct-vaccuuming) might consist of using feminist new materialist and posthumanist theory, as well as biosemiotics and cybersemiotics – and I think I manage to do it in a way that you will be able to follow even if you don’t yet know what any of those words mean!

There are other stories too – about the differences between the hyper-surveillance systems in Amazon’s “staffless” supermarkets, Amazon Fresh and the staffless rural supermarkets in Norway or the extended staffless openng hours of libraries in Scandinavia.

Thinking about these contrasts show that although societal structures (like racist histories, trust, homelessness, fear) can be embedded in technologies, technologies can also work very differently in different cultural settings, or in different assemblages (assemblage is another theoretical term I explain in the book).

I also draw upon the stories in science fiction and video games and art. For example, I look at the ways machine vision doesn’t see us by talking about the machine vision situation in Janelle Monáe’s Dirty Computer where a drone scans their retina – but doesn’t discover their two friends hiding in the boot of the car. There are a lot of trickster heros like that in science fiction stories about machine vision – heros who don’t use force but cunning to trick technologies. Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games is another example that I also talk about in the book.

Drone performing a retina scan on Janelle Monáe’s character in Monáe’s emotion picture Dirty Computer. Screenshot from Vimeo; watch the scene there – it starts around 04:25 mins in.

There is a lot more in the book, but I’ll let you explore that for yourself.

The book is available for sale right now (except in the USA – sorry, US release is December 4th) from Polity Press or through your local bookshop – you’ll see it in online bookshops in most countries, and physical bookshops will be able to order it for you. If you order from the Polity website I have a discount code for you: P2023 for 20% off!

And it’s ALSO available as an open access PDF that you can download right now!

If you read the book and enjoy it, I would really appreciate you leaving a review somewhere – Amazon or Goodreads or your local bookshop or whatever. But mostly, I just really hope that people enjoy reading it and find the book useful.

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