Note — Mar 29, 2020

AI Is An Ideology, Not A Technology

Seen in → No.119

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Glen Weyl and Jaron Lanier on other ways to envision AI, instead of the current ideology. They look at humanist and pluralist visions, keeping the human involvement / part in AI’s “intelligence” and valuing that contribution—including the providers of data, not just the engineers. To their mind (and I tend to agree), the current IA ideology is that technologies built by an elite aim to replace humans, instead of complement them. I’d also make a parallel with the use of “magic” as a form of obfuscation to hide the work done for free or cheaply. See also fauxtomation, haunted machines, and “jobs below the API.”

A clear alternative to “AI” is to focus on the people present in the system. If a program is able to distinguish cats from dogs, don’t talk about how a machine is learning to see. Instead talk about how people contributed examples in order to define the visual qualities distinguishing “cats” from “dogs” in a rigorous way for the first time. There’s always a second way to conceive of any situation in which AI is purported. This matters, because the AI way of thinking can distract from the responsibility of humans. […]

The very idea of AI might create a diversion that makes it easier for a small group of technologists and investors to claim all rewards from a widely distributed effort. Computation is an essential technology, but the AI way of thinking about it can be murky and dysfunctional. […]

“AI” is best understood as a political and social ideology rather than as a basket of algorithms. The core of the ideology is that a suite of technologies, designed by a small technical elite, can and should become autonomous from and eventually replace, rather than complement, not just individual humans but much of humanity. […]

Driven neither by pseudo-capitalism based on barter nor by state planning, Taiwan’s citizens have built a culture of agency over their technologies through civic participation and collective organization, something we are starting to see emerge in Europe and the US through movements like data cooperatives. […]

The active engagement of a wide range of citizens in creating technologies and data systems, through a variety of collective organizations offers an attractive alternative worldview.