The notion of digital labor, which was initially linked with different forms of non-material labor, precedes the life of devices and complex systems such as artificial intelligence. Digital labor — the work of building and maintaining the stack of digital systems — is far from ephemeral or virtual, but is deeply embodied in different activities. The scope is overwhelming: from indentured labor in mines for extracting the minerals that form the physical basis of information technologies; to the work of strictly controlled and sometimes dangerous hardware manufacturing and assembly processes in Chinese factories; to exploited outsourced cognitive workers in developing countries labelling AI training data sets; to the informal physical workers cleaning up toxic waste dumps. These processes create new accumulations of wealth and power, which are concentrated in a very thin social layer.
This triangle of value extraction and production represents one of the basic elements of our map, from birth in a geological process, through life as a consumer AI product, and ultimately to death in an electronics dump. Like in Fuchs’ work, our triangles are not isolated, but linked to one another in the production process. They form a cyclic flow in which the product of work is transformed into a resource, which is transformed into a product, which is transformed into a resource and so on. Each triangle represents one phase in the production process. Although this appears on the map as a linear path of transformation, a different visual metaphor better represents the complexity of current extractivism: the fractal structure known as the Sierpinski triangle.