Kate Crawford interview: How AI is exploiting people and the planet

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Beyond the headline breakthroughs, artificial intelligence is a global industrial complex. Having explored its political and social implications, Kate Crawford at Microsoft Research is now focusing on the infrastructure underpinning AI



Technology



24 March 2021

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Rocio Montoya

ARTIFICIAL intelligence is everywhere these days, from the Alexa virtual assistant in your kitchen to the algorithms that decide on your suitability for a job or a mortgage. But what exactly is it? The definition matters because to a great extent it dictates how we think about AI’s impact.

If AI is something that outperforms humans by definition, it seems logical to trust it to identify people who should be stopped and searched via facial recognition, say, or to make judgements on which offenders should get probation. If it is solely about algorithms, it becomes a lot easier to sweep aside issues of bias and injustice as mere technical issues.

Kate Crawford takes a broader view. Co-founder of the AI Now Institute at New York University and now a researcher at Microsoft Research and the école Normale Supérieure in Paris, she has spent the best part of two decades investigating the political and social implications of AI. In her new book, Atlas of AI, she also looks at the global infrastructure that underpins the rise of this technology.

She argues that AI, far from being something abstract and objective, is both material and intrinsically linked to power structures. The way it is made involves extracting resources from people and the planet, and the way it is used reflects the beliefs and biases of those who wield it. Only when we come to terms with this, says Crawford, will we be able to chart a just and sustainable future with AI.

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