A Paper Archive: Documenting the Live Performance Capitalist Magic

Journal article

De Valk, M. A Paper Archive: Documenting the Live Performance Capitalist Magic. Nordic Human-Computer Interaction Conference. 2022 (82), pp. 1-6. https://doi.org/10.1145/3546155.3547293
AuthorsDe Valk, M.

This paper consists of two interrelated layers: (1) it is the documentation of a live performance called Capitalist Magic, and (2) through the process of documentation it has become a new artifact; a paper using montage writing as experimental method to give insight into how new technologies are narrated by those who have a financial stake in their broad adoption, and why there is such an urgent need for counter-narratives.

The performance Capitalist Magic is a rite performing a series of magical transformations. Asteroid mining turns into a fun trip to Mars, fear of death into certain immortality, the making redundant of a large part of the work force through Machine Learning enabled automation shape shifts into a post-scarcity future of leisure in which humans are the purring kittens on the warm laps of almighty benevolent AIs. The earth and all its inhabitants morph into an eternal flow of information, safely stored on server farms quietly vanishing into the white luminescence of the cloud.

During the performance the author read the text without informing the audience that the speech was a montage of quotes. Montage writing is used as an experimental method to map the different ways in which a new technology is narrated, using publicly available, online materials such as recorded talks and interviews, to generate a short story. The selection of quotes focuses on Silicon Valley’s main tech evangelists trying to build up public trust towards industrial automation and generate enthusiasm in third parties to make use of the infrastructures their companies are rolling out —and will have a monopoly position over if they become a standard. The text focusses on the time between 2010 and 2018, when the use of AI within tech companies surged. The endnotes give information about the financial stakes of the person quoted, including a link to the source material, situating the montage in relation to the performative utterances it borrows from.

The resulting montage is a mapping of narratives which were spun to aid in the broad adoption of a new technology. It shows the transformation of something hard to accept —the automation of human labour and a growing consumption of scarce resources— into something that could save humanity from the problems it faces. It shows how the future of technology is shaped by an elite and uniform group of people who promote a type of transhumanism that denies human and planetary limits, with devastating environmental effects. This paper demonstrates the urgent need for counter-narratives, shaped and shared by a diversity of communities, in order to participatively design technologies for sustainable futures.

Documenting and archiving a live performance which critically examines the workings of tech evangelism and its negative impact on labour as well as the environment, needs to be critical of its own impact. It may seem trivial, but leaner ways of disseminating information need to be (re)applied across the board, so too in archiving. For this reason, Capitalist Magic is documented in the form of a paper.

Keywordsartificial intelligence, machine learning, storytelling, narrative, montage
JournalNordic Human-Computer Interaction Conference
Journal citation2022 (82), pp. 1-6
Digital Object Identifier (DOI)https://doi.org/10.1145/3546155.3547293
Web address (URL)https://dl.acm.org/doi/10.1145/3546155.3547293
Publication dates
Print08 Oct 2022
Publication process dates
Deposited02 Dec 2022
Accepted author manuscript
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