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deep sustainability
working group

JUST AI working groups expand the field of data and AI ethics by facilitating conversations on emerging topics, encouraging reflection around commissioned work, and making new connections possible. 

Deep Sustainability is led by Marie-Therese Png and Teresa Dillon. It is a community-building effort at the intersection of technology and environmental justice. The working group investigates the different ways that data and AI technologies are implicated in climate change. The working group examines the disconnect between AI and data-driven systems’ potential to both mitigate and contribute to environmental damage. Their conversations focus on how ‘sustainable AI’ is discussed in the Global South and Global North and the im/materiality of digital technologies with specific attention paid to AI supply chains and colonial histories, the ecological paradox of the AI economy, and environmental repair and labor organizing. The Deep Sustainability working group asks to what extent might data and AI create and structure new ecological pathways, or whether data and AI might instead contribute to the extractive logic that leads to current climate emergencies. Finally, the working group considers what new framings of justice might need to be developed in order to analyze these pathways. 


Deep Sustainability created a discussion structure and commissioning strategy to advance new understandings of the way that data and AI intersect with environmental futures. 


After hosting two panels open to the public, Deep Sustainability ran a series of small-scale workshops to address the topics that emerged and bridge relevant interests between commissioned academics and artists 


The first panel took place at the Prototyping Ethical Futures series in June 2021 and featured data scientist and activist Jaya Chakrabarti, Jennifer Gabrys, the chair of Media, Culture, and Environment at the University of Cambridge, as well as Caroline Ward and Dr. Erinma Ochu from Squirrel Nation. They discussed the paradoxical relationship of data and AI technologies to climate change and the environment. A reading list was sourced and circulated among the wider network that Fall.

A second panel was set up in February 2022 to continue exploring themes brought up in the first and featured Dr. Paola Ricaurte, co-founder of Tierra Común, Dr. Victor Galaz of Dark Machines, and Jennifer Gabrys, this time as the author of Program Earth. Topics covered included the counteractive impact of AI climate solutions, their concealed perpetuation through infrastructures, and opportunities for intervention.

Both panels were free online events open to anyone interested in the collaborative imagining and interrogation of critical tech and ecological justice discourses. Each attracted around 100 guests. 


In the spring, Marie-Therese convened a series of workshops to co-produce written work among a small group of scholars and inspire the creative projects of artists. Teresa was instrumental in sourcing and selecting creative practitioners already engaging with the workshops’ themes. Marie-Therese produced documentation of these workshops and participating artists have been invited to create potential commissions drawing on the themes of the workshops.


Workshops asked the following questions:


  • How are environmental harms associated with the material production of AI being articulated, by who, and from what geographies? 

  • What are the mechanisms through which the environmental risks of the material production of AI, and Global South perspectives are excluded?


Participants used the collaborative application Miro to visualize this brainstorm into a "patchy map". Conversations or questions that were not captured were put in a living document by a note-taker. The workshop closed with time for reflection and clarification of next steps. After the workshop, participants were given four weeks to expand their piece to a pre-agreed length, given their capacity in the time allotted. Marie-Therese then collated these into one long-form piece, which is intended to be submitted to a journal such as Interactions, Bandung Journal of the Global South, or the TOCHI special issue of Race Capital and Technology. 


The first workshop centered on AI supply chains and colonial histories. Topics discussed included the material reality of infrastructures supporting data-driven AI technologies, and the continuities of colonial capitalism that profits from the exploitation of natural resources and labor that supports them. 


The next workshop considered environmental sciences and technology justice. This time the group debated the evidence needed to assess whether technological systems have a net positive effect on environmental repair and the importance of data and AI’s environmental impact relative to more primary forms of environmental harm. 




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