Atlas of AI, book review: Mapping out the total cost of artificial intelligence

Victoria D. Doty


Atlas of AI: Electric power, Politics, and the Planetary Costs of Artificial Intelligence • By Kate Crawford • Yale University Press • 336 internet pages • ISBN: 978–300-20957- • £20   

“Ask forgiveness, not permission” has extended been a guiding theory in Silicon Valley. There is no technological field in which this theory has been far more practiced than the equipment finding out in modern day AI, which is dependent for its existence on big databases, almost all of which are scraped, copied, borrowed, begged, or stolen from the big piles of knowledge we all emit daily, knowingly or not. But this knowledge is barely ever rigorously sourced with the subjects’ permission.  

“Since we can,” two sociologists convey to Kate Crawford in Atlas of AI: Electric power, Politics, and the Planetary Costs of Artificial Intelligence, by way of acknowledging that their tutorial institutions are no unique from technologies corporations or governing administration companies in relating to any knowledge they locate as theirs for the having to educate and examination algorithms. Visuals grow to be infrastructure. This is how equipment finding out is manufactured. 

Every person wishes to talk about what AI is good or harmful for — figuring out facial photos, decoding speech instructions, driving autos (not nonetheless!). Many want to pour ethics around present day AI, as if making guidelines could alter the armed forces funding that has outlined its essential mother nature. Handful of want to talk about AI’s accurate expenses. Kate Crawford, a senior researcher at Microsoft and a research professor at the University of Southern California, is the exception. 

SEE: Making the bionic brain (no cost PDF) (TechRepublic)

In Atlas of AI, Crawford begins by deconstructing the well-known competition that ‘data is the new oil’. Ordinarily, that prospects people today to talk about data’s financial worth, but Crawford focuses on the actuality that both are extractive technologies. Extraction is mining (as in ‘data mining’ or oil wells), and in which mining goes, so stick to environmental problems, human exploitation, and profound society-large effects.  

Crawford underlines this position by heading to Silver Peak, Nevada, to check out the only working lithium mine in the US. Lithium is, of program, a vital element in battery packs for anything from smartphones to Teslas. Crawford follows this up by taking into consideration the widening implications of extraction for labour, the resources of knowledge, classification algorithms, and the country-state behaviour it all underpins, ending up with the ability structures enabled by AI-as-we-know-it. This way lies Project Maven and ‘signature strikes’ in which, as former CIA and NSA director Michael Hayden admitted, metadata kills people today. 

Snake oil

Still some of this is patently fake. Crawford traces back again the picture datasets on which the newest disturbing snake oil — emotion recognition — is primarily based, and finds they ended up designed from posed photos in which the topics ended up told to deliver exaggerated examples of psychological reactions. In this case, ‘AI’ is manufactured all the way down. Is there, as Tarleton Gillespie questioned about Twitter traits, any authentic human reflection there? 

Though other technologies guides have tackled some of Crawford’s matters (also a lot of of which have been reviewed right here to checklist), the closest to her built-in structural method is The Costs of Link by Nicholas Couldry and Ulises A. Mejias, which views our existing technological reconfiguration as the beginnings of a new romantic relationship between colonialism and capitalism. 

“Any sufficiently superior technologies is indistinguishable from magic,” Arthur C. Clarke famously wrote. Subsequent Crawford, this appears to be far more like: “Any technologies that appears to be like magic is hiding something.” So a lot of darkish tricks lie in how the sausage is manufactured. 

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