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Tech, Class, And Bots

Reading and writing Market Street with social geo data.

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To get to the Open Lab, Saito drove across the country. On the way, Saito saw the contrast between the cities and neighborhoods that were implementing digital infrastructure and those that weren’t. Now, Saito’s here, walking down Market Street, unavoidably confronted by the disparity between the tech workers, those who cater to them and the homeless.

On 10/15, Saito built a bot. The bot scraped geo-located tweets in a 600-foot radius from the lab. Saito noticed that on Twitter the homeless were only represented indirectly by the SF311 reports, an automated system mostly dedicated to removing traces of homelessness from the streets. Saito thought it wrong that the homeless could only be represented by the language of the people in the class above them.

Saito took those tweets and remixed them. Saito "mentioned" the users whose data had been scraped, then walked out onto Market Street, with a projector and a battery, firing the text on a wall. Most people walked straight through the projection, but several stopped. They asked, “What are you doing?” and Saito said, “I’m building an anti-anti-homelessness bot.” Then, they talked.

Saito talked to people about the changes they’d seen in the neighborhood, about the 311 requests, about the pulse and the energy in the street. About technology. And access. Saito directed people to the repository: “The bot’s up there if you want to download it. The text’s up there if you want to download it. Recipes for how to combine projectors and batteries are also there. It’s yours to mess with.”

This is Saito’s fellowship: an unfolding process of probing San Francisco and the forms of human-machine collaboration. As the fellowship continues, Saito will deepen connections to SF art and activist institutions, like the Sudo Room. Saito will improve the tools for listening, gathering, analyzing, visualizing, and generating text. Saito will explore the potential, the conflict and the vertigo.

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