The 2018 Symposium organized by the AI Now Institute (https://symposium.ainowinstitute.org/) under the title of “Ethics, Organizing, and Accountability” is interesting for a number of reasons. The AI Now Institute is an interdisciplinary research institute dedicated to exploring the social implications of artificial intelligence which was founded in 2017 by Kate Crawford (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kate_Crawford and Meredith Whittaker (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meredith_Whittaker) and is housed at the Ney York University.
The name is significant. AI “now” is indeed about AI as it is now, that is, not as it could and should be. Emphasizing the “now” has a critical edge. The focus is on what AI is actually doing, or more accurately, not doing right in the various areas of concern to the Institute, namely law enforcement, security, and social services. The AI Now Institute’s explicit concern with the “social implications” of AI translates into a rather one-sided civil rights perspective. What the institute explores are primarily the dangers of AI with regard to civil rights issues. This is well and good. It is necessary and of great use for preventing misuse or even abuse of the technology. But is it enough to claim that simply dropping AI as it is now into a social, economic, and political reality riddled with discrimination and inequality will not necessarily enhance civil rights and that the technology should therefore either not be used at all or if it is used, then under strict regulative control? Should one not be willing and able to consider the potential of AI to address civil rights issues and correct past failings, and perhaps even to start constructively dealing with the long-standing injustices the Institute is primarily concerned with? Finally, quite apart from the fact that the social implications of AI go way beyond civil rights issues, should not the positive results of AI in the areas of law enforcement, crime prevention, security, and social services also be thrown onto the scale before deciding to stop deployment of AI solutions? One cannot escape the impression that the general tenor of the participants at the symposium is the throw the baby out with the bathwater.