Artificial Intelligence as a Catchall

Without a doubt, media representation of artificial intelligence is too vague and simplistic to communicate tangible, actionable information to readers and citizens. This simplicity and quasi-mysticism, as Johnson and Verdicchio discuss, effect the discourse and thus action taken concerning the development of artificial intelligence. In my eyes, the largest issue that the duo highlights is that current discourse of artificial intelligence produces a sociotechnical blindness, or “blindness to all of the human actors involved and all of the decisions necessary to make AI systems” (pg. 587). This sociotechnical blindness creates a myth in which artificial intelligence is completely out of control of human hands, when the exact opposite is true: by definition of artificiality, all artificial intelligence systems are created by human decisions. However, when we prescribe agency to the artificial intelligence system not only does that absolve the creators of blame when issues arise from the artificial intelligence, but it also creates an environment in which citizens feel powerless.

Granted, artificial intelligence is a wide field with branching paths of specialization and epistemology, but using the umbrella term “artificial intelligence” to describe specific programs within media representation continues this trend of sociotechnical blindness. Imagine if, in a story about elephants, we just referred to them as mammals. Technically, we would be categorically truthful, but we would be missing out on a lot of nuance that could lead the reader to make false assumptions about mammals as a whole compared to the specific nature of elephants.

Obviously, AI is more complex than being one entity.

Even one more layer of complexity given to discussion of artificial intelligence would increase the nuance of understanding, and thus would work to de-blackbox the concept of artificial intelligence to most readers.

Even through an elementary survey of popular books about artificial intelligence, I found that many of the authors worked to mythologize and contribute to the black boxing of artificial intelligence as a whole. Boden’s description of artificial intelligence as a virtual machine drew allegories to an orchestra, in which a person does not single out different instruments, but listens to the music as a whole, created product of the virtual machine that is an orchestra. This concept of modularity creating a larger whole from constituent parts is brilliant, but the idea that each piece cannot be singled out or understood seems harmful given the trend of oversimplification in media coverage of artificial intelligence. Sociotechnical blindness will continue if writers continue to think readers need such simplified explanations.

 

References:

Boden, M. A. (2016). AI: its nature and future(First edition). Oxford, United Kingdom: Oxford University Press.

Johnson, D. G., & Verdicchio, M. (2017). Reframing AI Discourse. Minds and Machines, 27(4), 575–590. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11023-017-9417-6