AI Policy Futures is a research effort to explore the relationship between science fiction around AI and the social imaginaries of AI. What those social measures can teach us about real technology policy today. We seem to tell the same few stories about AI, and they’re not very helpful.
This is going to be a conversation about science fiction not just as a cultural phenomenon, or a body of work of different kinds, but also as a kind of method or a tool.
Mary Shelley’s novel has been an incredibly successful modern myth. And so this conversation today is not just about what happened 200 years ago, but the remarkable ways in which that moment and that set of ideas has continued to percolate and evolve and reform in culture, in technological research, in ethics, since then.
There’s already a kind of cognitive investment that we make, you know. At a certain point, you have years of your personal history living in somebody’s cloud. And that goes beyond merely being a memory bank, it’s also a cognitive bank in some way.
A lot of the science fiction I love the most is not about these big questions. You read a book like The Diamond Age and the most interesting thing in The Diamond Age is the mediatronic chopsticks, the small detail that Stephenson says okay, well if you have nanotechnology, people are going to use this technology in the most pedestrian, kind of ordinary ways.
When I go talk about this, the thing that I tell people is that I’m not worried about algorithms taking over humanity, because they kind of suck at a lot of things, right. And we’re really not that good at a lot of things we do. But there are things that we’re good at. And so the example that I like to give is Amazon recommender systems. You all run into this on Netflix or Amazon, where they recommend stuff to you. And those algorithms are actually very similar to a lot of the sophisticated artificial intelligence we see now. It’s the same underneath.
The Tyranny of Algorithms is obviously a polemical title to start a conversation around computation and culture. But I think that it helps us get into the cultural, the political, the legal, the ethical dimensions of code. Because we so often think of code, and code is so often constructed, in a purely technical framework, by people who see themselves as solving technical problems.