Our Neophobic, Conservative AI Overlords

The question of what the technology does is important, but far more important is who it is doing it for and who it is doing it to

I’ve been a technology activist for decades now, and I’ve read innumerable profound and enduring critiques of technology. In recent years, though, artificial intelligence has come under more fire than most developing trends. The pronouncements, hype, and foolishness surrounding it have risen to heights that stand out even by the outlandish standards of tech absurdity. Like me, you’ve probably encountered some of the better, smarter critiques along with all the silliness and insanity. Some of the greats are Cathy O’Neil’s outstanding 2016 book Weapons of Math Destruction, and the excellent research reports from the nonprofit AI Now institute, and also Patrick Ball’s spectacular papers published through the essential and dreadfully under-resourced Human Rights Data Analysis Group.

But of all these wonderful, smart, sharp analyses, none has left as enduring an impression as Molly Sauter’s odd and lyrical 2017 essay “Instant Recall,” published in the online magazine Real Life.

Sauter’s insight in that essay: machine learning is fundamentally conservative, and it hates change. If you start a text message to your partner with “Hey darling,” the next time you start typing a message to them, “Hey” will beget an autosuggestion of “darling” as the next word, even if this time you are announcing a break-up. If you type a word or phrase you’ve never typed before, autosuggest will prompt you with the statistically most common next phrase from all users (I made a small internet storm in July 2018 when I documented autocomplete’s suggestion in my message to the family babysitter, which paired “Can you sit” with “on my face and”).

Read More at LA Review of Books

Read the rest at LA Review of Books