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Paz Peña (El Salvador, 1980) is concerned not only with climate change, but also with how much power lies behind those who strive to stop it. This independent researcher focuses on understanding the intersection between digital technologies, feminism and social justice, the socio-ecological implications of digitization, its relationship with green energies and the role of Latin America in this context. He sums it up in his book entitled: Technologies for a planet on fire (Paidós, Editorial Planeta), in which he reviews the dangers of technological capitalism and the need for a digital transformation in an era of climate and environmental emergency.
In an era filled with apocalyptic narratives and dystopian futures, Peena wonders where these discourses come from and who they serve. “There’s this idea that the world is going to end and that everything’s pretty much a failure. Subconsciously, that’s very helpful for power because it means that it makes people more apolitical. In the specific case of technology, it’s a moment where the tech heroes come to say: ‘Don’t worry, we’re going to save you with a new technology.’ ,” says Beena.
The author explains that when the projects of big billionaires like Jeff Bezos or Elon Musk appear, they are following the idea of human superiority and proposing solutions that include going to space and putting polluting companies out. But doomsday talk isn’t just for eccentric billionaires. “It’s a marketing story because it allows us to say deeply that these technological heroes, the creators of artificial intelligence, are going to think about humanity,” says Paz Pena. From a tech magazine, it typically depicts “these supposed gods who later find solutions to climate problems.” The researcher continues to attack that interest in his first book arises only from newsrooms talking about environmental issues and climate crises, but not from the section he publishes on new technologies.
For 179 pages in Technologies for a Planet on Fire, Peena traces a zigzag between the realities and the difference between the Global North and South. Challenges and solutions that arise between spaces of resistance and dominant discourses around natural resources such as lithium or copper that are important in the energy transition.
listen At the launch you said it was really a book about power.
Answer Related to the book’s idea is how much power in the climate crisis we’re handing over to a few big-tech players. This is very interesting to me because I have been working in technology for a long time and you can see the power of these great technologies in your daily life. From knowing all of your personal data at work or in public areas. After the epidemic, they are now inside your home, in your intimate life, they are in other fields, where they were not considered productive before, and now through the production of personal data, it is like the big heart of technological capitalism. It turns out that they already have that extraordinary power that seems to me historic at the level of global capitalism. What caught my attention when I started doing the research for this book was how those same technologies are now reimagining themselves as ideal solutions or partners in the energy transition. Not only they, but public policy also elevates them to this role, thereby increasing their power. It’s very worrying because the politics and what we’re doing is giving a few players in a crisis the opportunity to respond with a technical response, which is important, but not necessary.
B. Which world is dying from the climate crisis?
R. A certain world is dying: the development of the Global North, but in between in Latin America you can see different worlds in opposition, many are going to die, but never die. For example, Silvia Rivera Cusiganqui talks about crowded realities from Bolivia, deep down they mix a little, but each lives in its own climate. I believe that a kind of consumption can end, a way of looking at the world in terms of nature, but in this sense I believe that Latin America has a very important perspective on this planetary crisis.
B. You stop talking about the Anthropocene epoch and start talking about the Capitalocene.
R. I use the word capitalcene because it seemed important to me to position politically what the purpose of criticizing this subject was, and it did not seem logical to me to talk about the power of big technologies. Ultimately, the power that big technologies have today is based on the capitalism they foster and especially the power they give to that capitalism. Not only in terms of data mining, extracting natural resources to create technologies, but today the same big technologies are helping to increase and improve the fossil energy industry through artificial intelligence and there are many pioneers and complaints. In other words, it is an industry that is eager to continue with the current economic model.
B. Artificial intelligence (AI) is often talked about in two ways: a wonderful contribution or a threat to humanity. Not many subtleties. Where is it important to focus when talking about AI?
R. I think this is a major issue for technological power. So strange that at some point we forget that it has an owner and that it has an ideology. This book is concerned with understanding who that owner is and forces the idea that we are beginning to understand that all technology has a material effect. Digital technology cannot exist without material. The ideological movement speaks of the cloud. In this particular case, the book is trying to force people to look a little bit because it allows you to basically understand that the socio-ecological consequences of this are real, so you start to see how much it costs. In this context of energy transition digital transformation is being created. In my opinion, it is also a socio-political problem.
A feminine look
These days, Baz Pena wonders why artificial intelligence is a feminist issue. He called the project in collaboration with the Brazilian organization Coding rights They want to show why the consequences of artificial intelligence are a feminist agenda. There they analyze possible biases in their design and how it affects, for example, race or gender. The perspective he shares in his essay is the broad perspective of someone who has known the field for many years moving into research projects and public policy.
B. Could Feminist AI Exist?
R. It’s impossible to create a feminist AI because ultimately it’s a binary view of the world: you’re A or you’re B, because you have to reduce it to a database, and it doesn’t allow for those light, dark, and gray areas. , which seems to me to be the most beautiful thing about the feminist agenda. That is, breaking out of that binary. But there must be an AI outside of technocapitalism. That feminist AI must first be holistic and move beyond the idea that technology is a magic wand.