Artificial Intelligence: Hope or Anxiety?

Original article was published by Jake Barry on Artificial Intelligence on Medium


Artificial Intelligence: Divisive or a Crisis?

Exploring news media and their role in AI development.

Welcome to the Future

“Narratives have played a crucial role in the communication and shaping of ideas in the history of technology.” (The Royal Society, 2018)

In 2018, Kai-Fu Lee — a Taiwanese born, now American computer scientist — published a non-fiction book that made Silicon Valley wince. Named ‘AI Super Powers’, Mr. Lee explored a new technology that is growing in awareness but coupled with ambiguity: Artificial Intelligence [AI].

AI has been widely embraced with a plethora of benefits, including:

Marketing for AI is growing as organisations note on its ability to streamline user experiences, save capital and boost revenue

Auto-Sergei compiles data far quicker and accurately than humans do, therefore fast-tracking the service for the customer whilst saving Compare The Market time and money. But it is the repeated trope within this campaign that is becoming synonymous with AI — “automated”. Sergei no longer has to manually worry the different facets of tasks that comprise his everyday role, meaning that he can sit back and relax whilst numerous algorithms complete his tasks for him.

What is worrying is that Sergei is in a profession considered at risk of automation. His role could be absolved by intelligent machines as digital personal assistants begin to proliferate — and his would not be the only one, with “half of all jobs” at risk in the next decade. Although Sergei seems relieved, almost thankful during the campaign, this is not representative of how this shift will look in reality. It is exactly this issue — that AI will change the paradigm of how we lead our lives— that is largely free from today’s news media, leaving audiences hopeful, unaware of its thematic implications.

With this in mind, Lee’s description juxtaposes the stream of news media that we see. His description is so dystopian that it transcends the technology itself, arguing that AI will, “combine winner-take-all economics with unprecedented concentrations of wealth.”

But Artificial Intelligence is already seeing tangible progressions, especially in areas of altruism or sustainability. Industries like agriculture are now data-charged. Where, in 2018, AI would compliment the farmers [see below image], now the AI is the farmer. This reporting bids to get audiences excited, to recognise a world that promises scaled innovation like never before; to unshackle ourselves from previous industrial revolutions and enter a new utopia.

Access to different data-points provides better and more consistent yields

Surprising, then, that Lee sees a future where our social contract is to be ripped apart; to evolve or transcend. That AI will create significant global inequality and austerity. As the world moves into the digital age, AI will see itself move closer to centre stage. With that, the spotlight increases and communications inevitably conflict.

This has created an air of hopeful anxiety amongst audiences as media reports inter-lock. It is a divisive technology because of how malleable it is to such a wide breadth of sectors but also because of how the news press unevenly cover its impact. This makes science-fiction innovation seem imminent despite sporadic reporting around information warfare, echo chambers, propaganda and the return to populism due to AI.

All of this is forming a narrative that leaves audiences bewildered and governments detached from responsibility. Civics rely on a liberated and ratified free press for “democratic governance” and grounded politics, ensuring that governments and their fellow institutions are held to account on the steady progress of AI — after all, the impact that AI will have is irrefutable. And yet, for those outside of technology sector, it remains to be an abstract idea, and our understanding of its application and use is largely determined by its coverage, making audiences fearful and excited.

What I argue is that AI coverage has confused its potential, and that AI’s role in techno-authoritarianism and automation are being understated and thus nudged down the pecking order of news values. Instead, a self-serving circulation of news that boasts its privatised application, yet avoids to ask challenging questions that create accountability for those above us.

The consequences could be that of a global crisis. Least alone, AI has already been touted to have significant government application; China recently released a three-step programme to become world leaders by 2030; the U.S. have made it their second priority in R&D; the U.K. has invested at least £84m since 2017; Russia see AI as integral to the future of their national security.

Even today, Bill Gates endows AI with the, “most potential to change human lives.” Robert Downey Jr. has been one to endorse its growing relevance and break down its barriers to true understanding.

So, how will AI develop in-light of the news media that surrounds it? Will AI become a divisive or an inclusive tool for all?

Robert Downey Jr. hosted ‘The Age of AI’, a YouTube mini-series exploring how AI has been applied during its early years.