Introducing the AiPact Zine Issue 1

As a group of rather serious scholars, throughout the last year and a half we at the AiPact initiative have been tirelessly asking ourselves: what exactly is the societal impact of AI?

It’s a question without a definitive or simple answer, of course. But as a research group, we’ve been diligently trying to unravel our little corner of this complex puzzle — looking at the intersections of healthcare and digital platforms, automation’s impact on unionization, the ghost work that powers digital technologies, what artists are contributing to the debate around AI, and other pertinent topics and issues.

Despite the methodological rigour that generally characterize our research, we also know the value of free-flowing ideation and open-ended creative thinking. On a Monday morning in September 2023, during one of those meetings where we get together to discuss all things AI, we decided to explore some of the questions, concerns, ideas, and preoccupations that we’ve been dealing with in our research in a different manner. It is through this process that we created the first issue of the

AiPact research initiative zine! This zine does not contain any systematic peer-reviewed findings. Instead, in keeping with the rebellious spirit of zine-making, it contains a range of provocations that we gave form through drawings, cartoons, stream-of-consciousness musings, and even auto-generated poetry.

Making the first issue of the AiPact zine

On a typical day, we would sit in front of our computers typing out our thoughts in relative silence. But during the zine-making session, we gathered around a table with markers and paper — talking amongst ourselves — while we wrote and drew together. The mandate was simple: contribute a page or two to the zine that reflects something of the research you are doing. It could be a research question, something you’ve recently read, your doubts, or anything else related to AI.

Zines are decidedly DIY. They are “non-commercial, non-professional, small-circulation magazines which their creators produce, publish, and distribute by themselves” (Duncombe in Creasap 2014). Zines can contain essays, hand-drawn images, poetry, fiction, cartoons, collages, and anything else you can put on paper. They can also come in various formats, sizes, and genres. It is meant to be an open and flexible format that allows you to creatively express yourself.

Importantly, however, zine-making also has a strong underlying ethos. Zine-making is rooted in counter-cultural tradition. It has a long history of being used to challenge mainstream discourse and give platform to grassroots activism. Moreover, zines are often communally made and shared, allowing for the easy dissemination of new and provocative ideas, social and political thoughts, experiences, perspectives, and more (Duncombe 1997).

We were of course not engaged in writing revolutionary manifestoes. But as an outlet for researchers who often operate within the exacting circumscriptions of academia, zine-making can nonetheless be particularly liberating. As Creasap (2014) writes, zines are decidedly informal — unlike research papers — and thus offer a possible format to communicate research knowledge and ideas in new ways and to new audiences. Zine-making resists the kinds of systematic logic that characterize academic work. Moreover, it has a visual and material quality that can spark new ways of thinking about or thinking through a particular question or concern. We are, after all, researchers preoccupied with studying digital technologies. And we often use digital technologies in the process. Working with physical materials, doing it together, and giving ourselves the liberty to express our ideas creatively, is a sure-fire way to bring something new to the surface.

By no means do we contend that our modest little publication contains anything profoundly insightful. But we hope that you find this zine somewhat interesting, at least entertaining, and maybe even a bit thought-provoking too. Even if just a little.

Other tech zines

Though the world of tech might seem entirely at odds with hands-on arts-and-craft zine-making, there are plenty of interesting tech zines out there. Take a look at some of these tech zines:

Intersectional AI Toolkit
Algorithms of Late Capitalism
Tiny Tech Zines
Algorithmic Micropolitics Zine
A People’s Guide to AI

You can also look out for more issues of the AiPact zine in the future!

Adriaan Odendaal is a PhD candidate from South Africa, working at Erasmus University Rotterdam as part of the Societal Impact of AI (AiPact) initiative. His research focuses on the impact creative practice can have in facilitating more inclusive and participatory AI design practices. Adriaan is also part of the Rotterdam-based research and design collaboration internet teapot.