Summary of Anatomy of an AI System

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Professors Kate Crawford and Vladan Joler have created a map that visualizes the many processes that make the Amazon Echo work. In this essay, which accompanies their map, they take you on a fascinating journey outlining the global networks of raw material, human labor and data behind today’s popular gadgets. 

In this summary, you will learn

  • What resources are involved in producing and powering an AI device, and 
  • What the social and environmental costs of AI systems are. 

About the Authors

Kate Crawford is a professor at New York University. Vladan Joler is a professor at the Academy of Arts at the University of Novi Sad, Serbia.



Operating AI-powered devices involves massive amounts of resources: raw material, human labor and data. Rare earth minerals, for example, are indispensable components of many electronic devices. Minable ore deposits of rare earth minerals are concentrated in only a few places, and their extraction is cumbersome and highly polluting. Yet these minerals, which took billions of years to form in the Earth’s crust, are used in devices with a lifespan of only a few years. The minerals then end up back underground in electronic waste dumps. The chains of production from mine to product are so complex that technology companies are hard-pressed...

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