Risk and Delusion in the Rational World of Machine Learning Engineers (1/7)
Why we Need to Acknowledge the Power of Imagination in the Creation and Legitimisation of Artificial Intelligence.
A research project on the social imaginaries of artificial intelligence of machine learning engineers.
After the radio, the light bulb and the Internet, artificial intelligence has become the latest technology that mobilises social visions, hopes, fears, and beliefs throughout society. The lack of consensus of what artificial intelligence actually is has created a fluid, open space for promises and concerns. They range from the hope that artificial intelligence solves social problems to the fear that exactly this technology leads to deeper inclines in society.
Current academic and public discourses waiver around topics such as transparency, accountability, or explainability of artificial intelligence. In this research, I want to approach artificial intelligence from a different angle. Recognising the inherent social and political aspects of technologies, I aim to raise awareness to the notion of imagination.
I argue that how we actually think of, imagine and envision technologies has a major impact on their adaption, diffusion and legitimisation.
That means that I approach artificial intelligence from a social constructivist perspective, claiming that social actors’ promises and beliefs actively shape and legitimise a technology, and hence establish structures of power. In this context, I emphasise the role engineers play as profound agents in the formalisation of new technologies.
Consequently, I have qualitatively interviewed machine learning engineers from companies (Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Babylon) and academia (University of Edinburgh, University of Oxford) about their social imaginaries of artificial intelligence. I found that they imagine artificial intelligence as a tool, an assistant, a delusion, and a risk. Furthermore, I interpret and critique those social imaginaries. I argue that the imaginaries of artificial intelligence of machine learning engineers are always rendered by the computable, technically feasible. Hence, I emphasise the need to recognise multiple, coexisting social imaginaries in order to highlight the responsibility of every social actor in the social shaping of artificial intelligence.
I argue that alternative imaginative voices should initiate a discourse that is not constrained by what is technically possible, but by imagining what is socially desirable.
This is the first part of seven publications. With this format I aim to enable the reader to navigate my project and decide what he/she finds interesting. Chronologically, the chapters of this research are:
Of Dreams, Machines, and Ecosystems (2/7)
Technologies are Artefacts That Have Politics (2/7)
Engineers are Integral Parts in the Shaping of an Innovation (3/7)
The Importance of Imagination in the Creation of a Technology (3/7)
Why Notions of Imagination Matter in Current AI Research (4/7)
Machine Learning Engineers Imagine What is Computable (4/7)
Artificial Intelligence is a Tool and an Assistant (5/7)
Artificial Intelligence is a Delusion and a Risk (6/7)
Fictional Futures and Surreal Tomorrows (7/7)
Full citation: Katrin Fritsch, “Risk and Delusion in the Rational World of Machine Learning Engineers”, MOTIF Institute for Digital Culture, (March 15, 2019), https://medium.com/@katrinfritsch/risk-and-delusion-in-the-rational-world-of-machine-learning-engineers-1-10-e739df39056a