In an imagined near future, the United States, reeling from a civil war, adopts an algorithmic society to free the nation of the pain of governing itself. While artificial intelligence and its partisans (see: Twitter, Facebook, YouTube) are acknowledged as integral components in memetically accelerating the preconditions of the civil war, a new centrism prevails in the District of Columbia, and it is believed that a steady new regulatory hand will keep the same spiral into violence from reoccurring.
A freelance reporter, however, stumbles across a series of documents which suggest that this new society rests on the same structural violence as the old U.S.
This is the plot of “The Training Commission,” a serialized, speculative fiction project that examines the compromises and consequences of imperfect technology. The project features a weekly newsletter, and also clues, context, and Easter eggs scattered across the web.
“The Training Commission” is created by New York City’s Ingrid Burrington, an artist and writer, and Brendan C. Byrne, a fiction writer and critic. The project is supported by a Mozilla Creative Media Award.
Says Byrne: “The Training Commission emerges from a belief that no conversation about radically reimagining the governance of AI is complete without a radical reimagining of the existing power structures and context within which these technologies are used. Using a familiar literary genre — email — to imagine an alternate-timeline America, we hope to encourage readers to consider how easily good intentions can be subsumed into maintaining exploitative systems.”
Says Burrington: “Today’s conversations about ‘AI accountability’ are, in many instances, proxies for larger and harder conversations about the contradictions of pursuing equity and justice in racist, capitalist societies such as the United States. Do we want less biased risk assessment technologies for managing mass incarceration, or do we want a society without prisons? How does the glut of recommended white supremacist content on YouTube reflect not only a colossal oversight by a tech company, but also the deeply racist foundations that still define American politics today?”
Mozilla’s Creative Media Awards are part of our mission to support a healthy internet. They fuel the people and projects on the front lines of the internet health movement — from science fiction writers in the U.S. to digital artists in the Netherlands to computer scientists in the United Arab Emirates.
The latest cohort of Awardees uses art and advocacy to shine a light on the AI that influences our everyday lives. AI today is invisible to most of us, yet has an outsized impact: The AI behind our screens influences what news we read, who we date, if we’re hired for that dream job, and whether or not we qualify for a loan or parole.
Says Mark Surman, Mozilla’s Executive Director: “Artificial intelligence is increasingly interwoven into our everyday lives. Mozilla’s Creative Media Awards seek to raise awareness about the potential of AI, and ensure the technology is used in a way that makes our lives better rather than worse.”