The Amazon Echo as an anatomical map of human labor, data and planetary resources



A really great long-form article (and accompanying visualisation) looking at the life of an Amazon Echo. In terms of extraction of resources, human labour, and data that goes into making, running, and disposing of such a device, and the social, environmental, economic and political consequences.

A few snippets from the article:

Put simply: each small moment of convenience – be it answering a question, turning on a light, or playing a song – requires a vast planetary network, fueled by the extraction of non-renewable materials, labor, and data

All these batteries have a limited lifespan, and once consumed they are thrown away as waste. Amazon reminds users that they cannot open up and repair their Echo, because this will void the warranty.

Vincent Mosco has shown how the ethereal metaphor of ‘the cloud’ for offsite data management and processing is in complete contradiction with the physical realities of the extraction of minerals from the Earth’s crust and dispossession of human populations that sustain its existence.

Looking from the perspective of deep time, we are extracting Earth’s history to serve a split second of technological time, in order to build devices than are often designed to be used for no more than a few years.

(If you’re near London, the illustration is on display at the V&A at the moment as part of London Design Festival.)


What a fascinating essay - clever to use the Echo as a frame for talking about a huge topic!

I think I was pretty familar with a lot of the issues raised, but seeing it presented like this really highlights the scale and complexity of it all.

Plenty I didn’t know too, e.g.:

In a single iPhone there are about 75 elements: two-thirds of the periodic table.

It was also really interesting to be presented with the trajectory of AI in colonial terms:

The new gold rush in the context of artificial intelligence is to enclose different fields of human knowing, feeling, and action, in order to capture and privatize those fields.

A pretty chilling conclusion, but one that feels accurate :sweat:


This is a brilliant piece of work. It highlights the hidden consequences of making, buying and using an object we could easily do without. And it talks about the surrender of control to such devices. I am getting some A2 versions of the ai anatomy map for our new repair café.


I’m going to go take it all in at the V&A, I found it kind of overwhelming as web document. Thanks for sharing!