The Core of Platform Capitalism: Towards an Economic Geography of Artificial Intelligence

Authors: Fabian Ferrari*, University of Oxford
Topics: Economic Geography, Social Theory, Communication
Keywords: artificial intelligence, global production networks, platform capitalism
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/10/2021
Start / End Time: 1:30 PM / 2:45 PM
Room: Virtual 47
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

How does artificial intelligence (AI) reconfigure the geographies of production? Is it a general-purpose technology with the capacity to democratise longstanding dependencies and hierarchies across the planet? Or is it about to become a general condition of production that compounds the concentration of power and capital in particular geographies with advantageous political economies? As ever more is hypothesised about the spatial and developmental implications of AI, there is an urgent need to conceptualise and operationalise its actually-existing economic geographies. This paper argues that this research gap requires to dissect the infrastructural core of platform capitalism given the ever-more dominant role of three lead firms – Amazon, Google and Microsoft – in providing AI services to a range of clients. Drawing on a qualitative research design that combines documentary analysis and semi-structured interviews with industry experts, this paper contends that the global production network (GPN) framework is indispensable to excavate and enumerate the spatialities of AI across spatial scales and analytical sites. However, its key categories – labour, value and embeddedness – need to be thoroughly reworked in the light of AI in planetary-scale platform capitalism. Previous articulations of global production networks fail to account for the fusion of algorithms and human labour, the role of cloud infrastructure in creating and enhancing value, and the strategic disembeddedness of platforms. These omissions have sweeping policy implications. In conclusion, the paper posits that the economic geographies of AI provision destabilise established theoretical, methodological, and regulatory approaches to the analysis of global production networks.

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