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Photo: Ina Fried/Axios

Activists and journalists have been telling us for years that we are handing too much of our human autonomy over to machines and algorithms. Now artists have a showcase in the heart of Silicon Valley to highlight concerns around facial recognition, algorithmic bias and automation.

Why it matters: Art and technology have been partners for millennia, as Steve Jobs liked to remind us. But the opening of "Uncanny Valley: Being Human in the Age of AI" tomorrow at the de Young Museum in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park puts art in the role of technology's questioner, challenger — and sometimes prosecutor.

The big picture: "Uncanny Valley" confronts exhibition goers with powerful images of data monetization, algorithmic bias and the loss of humanity.

For one of several pieces in the exhibit, Agnieszka Kurant relied on millions of collaborators.

  • Titled "AAI" (short for "artificial artificial intelligence," a Jeff Bezos coinage referring to human-powered pseudo-AI), the piece consists of several colorful mounds that were constructed over several months by different colonies of termites out of a range of materials including sand, gold particles and broken crystals.
  • Kurant said the piece is inspired by the exploitation of labor in late capitalism, as well as the mining of rare materials.
  • "Essentially these sculptures are models for this hidden exploitation and the entire society becoming one gigantic factory," Kurant said.

Another piece by Kurant, "Conversions #1," uses sentiments from tweets from activists around the world to manipulate liquid crystal paint on an interactive canvas.

  • "Even our protests against the status quo are becoming a source of extraction of information about us and are becoming monetized," Kurant said.

Other pieces of note:

  • Simon Denny built a version of an Amazon patent — specifically a 2016 design for a cage to allow a human worker to navigate through an automated warehouse. Viewed through a phone app or an iPad supplied by the museum, the cage reveals a trapped King Island brown thornbill — an Australian endangered bird.
  • Trevor Paglen's "They Took the Faces from the Accused and the Dead" consists of hundreds of faces used to train an artificial intelligence engine, all without any of the subjects' consent. "What we are looking at here is dirty data," curator Claudia Schmuckli said.
  • Ian Cheng's "BOB (Bag of Beliefs)" presents an on-screen "virtual serpent" —inspired by the designs of animator Hayao Miyazaki — that viewers can interact with via a mobile app. Given enough attention and care, the critter will leave the exhibit's monitors and crawl onto spectators' own devices. The piece aims "to remind viewers that an AI entity like BOB should not be treated as omniscient or static. Rather, it should be approached like a child or an animal."
  • Lynn Hershman Leeson's piece "Shadow Stalker" illustrates the volume of personal information on the web. Enter your email and the exhibit starts showing a list of places you've been, people you know and your phone numbers (albeit with some parts redacted). Another piece from Leeson, a video, highlights the dangers of predictive policing.

"Tech is never neutral," said Schmuckli. "That is a myth."

My thought bubble: This exhibition has a way of cutting to the heart of the issues in ways that all of the legislative proposals and interest group statements don't, even as they raise similar concerns.

Details: The exhibit runs through Oct. 25. If you are going to be in the Bay Area between now and then, it's definitely worth checking out.

Go deeper: A tug-of-war over biased AI

Go deeper

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The first known U.S. case of the Omicron variant was detected in California, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed Wednesday.

Driving the news: The confirmed case was detected in a traveler returning from South Africa who was fully vaccinated and has mild symptoms, according to the CDC.

Supreme Court appears likely to roll back abortion rights

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The Supreme Court on Wednesday seemed likely to weaken abortion rights and perhaps to let states ban the procedure altogether.

The intrigue: The court seemed likely to throw out the framework established in Roe v. Wade, but it wasn't clear whether a majority of the justices were inclined to overturn the court's precedents entirely.

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How to meme a painting

Illustration: Megan Robinson/Axios

How can a physical artwork become an NFT? One new company has just spent $12.9 million on a Banksy in an attempt to try out a new way of converting the real into the virtual.

Why it matters: The art market globally sees volume of about $60 billion per year, almost all of which is trade in physical objects. Art-world insiders including former Christie's c0-chair Loïc Gouzer are on the lookout for ways to monetize physical paintings without necessarily giving up physical ownership of them.