Atlas of AI

Power, Politics, and the Planetary Costs of Artificial Intelligence

What happens when artificial intelligence saturates political life and depletes the planet? How is AI shaping our understanding of ourselves and our societies? In this book Kate Crawford reveals how this planetary network is fueling a shift toward undemocratic governance and increased racial, gender, and economic inequality. Drawing on more than a decade of research, award‑winning science, and technology, Crawford reveals how AI is a technology of extraction: from the energy and minerals needed to build and sustain its infrastructure to the exploited workers behind “automated” services, to the data AI collects from us.

Rather than taking a narrow focus on code and algorithms, Crawford offers us a political and a material perspective on what it takes to make artificial intelligence and where it goes wrong. While technical systems present a veneer of objectivity, they are always systems of power. This is an urgent account of what is at stake as technology companies use artificial intelligence to reshape the world.


Praises for the book

“Eloquent and revelatory…. Crawford limns the dire stakes of unbridled technological expansion. Methodologically original and keenly intelligent, Atlas of AI is an indispensable map of the present that boldly calls readers to chart a more just and sustainable future.”

—Alondra Nelson, President of the Social Science Research Council

“A must read. Moving from lithium mines to data extraction, from labor exploitation to government surveillance, Atlas of AI eloquently reveals how intelligence is ‘made.’ It displaces anemic calls for ‘ethics’ with probing investigations into the environmental degradation, capital accumulation, and labor conditions that AI makes possible.”

—Wendy Hui Kyong Chun, Canada 150 Chair in New Media, SFU

“Artificial intelligence seems to haunt the world like a ghost in our machines. But as Kate Crawford shows in her vivid, unnerving book, this amalgam of algorithms, data, hardware is anything but immaterial. Atlas of AI is an outstanding contribution: the ghost of AI made visible.”

—Peter Galison, author of Einstein’s Clocks

“By brilliantly tracing the history, mythology, ethics, and politics of artificial intelligence, Atlas of AI reminds us that the stories we tell about AI are just as vital as the mathematical models that comprise these systems.”

—Ruha Benjamin, author of Race After Technology

“Whether you’re a devoted researcher, an AI practitioner, or a general reader concerned about the growing power of data, this is an eye-opening tour of the planetary resources, laboring bodies, and relations of power that travel under the sign of AI, lending the empire of data its unsustainable life.”

—Lucy Suchman, author of Human-Machine Reconfigurations

“From the extraction of labor, latex, and lithium to the politics of proxies and Palantir, Atlas of AI is a rigorous interrogation of the power relations that reproduce AI, and a necessary mapping of its very limits. This is an essential book.”

—Simone Browne, author of Dark Matters: On the Surveillance of Blackness

“Kate Crawford looks at artificial intelligence with a humanist’s eye and an artist’s sense of what really matters. If you think AI is all about big data and machine learning, this marvelous book will remind you: it’s about the natural world, and politics, and history, and sometimes, even beauty too.”

—Fred Turner, author of The Democratic Surround

About the Author

Kate Crawford is a leading scholar of the social and political implications of artificial intelligence. Over her 20-year career, her work has focused on understanding large-scale data systems, machine learning and AI in the wider contexts of history, politics, labor, and the environment. She is a Research Professor of Communication and STS at USC Annenberg, a Senior Principal Researcher at MSR-NYC, and the inaugural Visiting Chair for AI and Justice at the École Normale Supérieure in Paris, In 2021, she will be the Miegunyah Distinguished Visiting Fellow at the University of Melbourne, and has been appointed an Honorary Professor at the University of Sydney. She previously co-founded the AI Now Institute at New York University. Kate has advised policymakers in the United Nations, the Federal Trade Commission, the European Parliament, and the White House.

Her academic research has been published in journals such as NatureNew Media & SocietyScience, Technology & Human Values and Information, Communication & Society. Beyond academic journals, Kate has also written for The New York TimesThe AtlanticHarpers’ Magazine, among others.

Kate’s work also includes collaborative art projects and critical visual design. Her project Anatomy of an AI System with Vladan Joler — which maps the full lifecycle of the Amazon Echo — won the Beazley Design of the Year Award in 2019, and is in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the V&A Museum in London. She also collaborated with the artist Trevor Paglen to produce Training Humans at Fondazione Prada’s Osservatorio in Milan — the first major exhibition of the images used to train AI systems. Their investigative essay,, won the Ayrton Prize from the British Society for the History of Science.


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