During the Autumn term of my MA last year I chose a topic for a ‘PechaKucha’[1] style presentation – Artificial Intelligence and Art. My focus – art that has in some way used AI. Although the use of AI in art is an interesting area to explore, there is far more change and impact caused by AI on the world, which may have its own impact on art. Art combined with AI is still of course, of great interest to me and my fellow students but I now feel the focus was too narrow.

The exponential developments in AI are causing vast changes in our world, some for good, some not.

In 1972, my school was invited by the production team to take part in the David Frost TV show. Members of the 6th form were provided beforehand with a copy of Alvin Toffler’s book Future Shock[2] to read in advance. We were encouraged to ask Mr Toffler questions and to participate in the discussion. Future Shock does not feature AI, but it has remained in my mind ever since, raising the question; how can we cope with the acceleration of change? At the time of the broadcast, computer technology was already starting to have an effect (in the late 60’s/early 70’s), notably, one of its uses as a U.S. government instrument to undermine the poor[3] as Virginia Eubanks outlines in her recent book, “Automating Inequality”. The U.S. goverment strategy remains unchanged, the use of computers to carry this out, latterly in conjunction with AI.

The size of the AI subject (even in 2017) is enormous and ever expanding, rapidly permeating our lives. The the year that followed my talk was a tumultuous year for AI. AI reveals itself to be the main story. Regrettably, I was insuficiently prepared at the time to cover this huge subject.

The following list here was summarised the negative AI-related events, obtained from “AI Now Institute” symposium 2018 in New York, available on YouTube:

  • Facebook silencing reports of Ethnic cleansing in Myanmar[4]
  • Facebook Google and Twitter testify on Capitol Hill on the Russia and US elections[5]
  • Amazon Rekognition video launches[6]
  • Facebook facial recognition tool launches[7]
  • India’s biometric System enables facial recognition[8]
  • Predictive policing software in New Orleans was deployed without City Council knowledge[9]
  • Microsoft face API launched[10]
  • Cambridge Analytica revealed[11]
  • Self-driving Uber car kills a pedestrian[12]
  • Tesla autopilot fatal car crash[13]
  • Google’s Project maven revealed[14]
  • Mark Zuckerberg testimony in front of Senate for Facebook’s role in 2016 election[15]
  • Flawed algorithm by UK government to deport thousands revealed[16]
  • Amazon shareholders call for hold of facial recognition sales to police department revealed[17]
  • Microsoft employees pass open letter against partnership with I.C.E.[18]
  • Amazon employees demand recognition software not to be used by law enforcement[19]
  • IBM Watson recommending unsafe and incorrect cancer treatments[20]
  • Amazon’s facial recognition wrongly identified 28 lawmakers[21]
  • Google’s plans to launch project dragonfly revealed[22]
  • IBM and New York police Department’s partnership revealed[23]
  • Facebook security breach exposes 50 million users revealed[24]
  • Google’s bug revealed giving third-party access to user information [25]
  • Google Drops out of Pentagon’s $10 billion cloud competition[26]

In October 2018, I attended Mozfest[27]

I attended a memorable and pertinent panel discussion[28] , entitled “AI’s collateral damage”;. This included the eminent professor Guillaume Chaslot, Camille Francois, Alondra Nelson and former FBI special agent Clinton Watts.

Points during the discussion arose, questions included: what if we could temporarily stop all AI or at least slowed it, what would its effects be? How do companies proactively think through the effects of their AI product on the world before launch? (Camille Francois). How can we reverse-engineer algorithms in AI? (Guillaume Chaslot)

How will AI effect (Un)employment? (Clinton Watts). Watts identified the theatre of war and its concomitant loss of jobs, and how it has changed with AI, minimising human involvement in kinetic warfare. “Tools such as AI are developing at ‘light speed’; far faster than the capabilities of humans to keep­­­­ up” … (I imagine Alvin Toffler smiling and nodding in agreement) – How does the impact of AI on acc­­­entuating the financial divisions in society? (Alondra Nelson discussed this). Available on YouTube and worth viewing.  “…­­­which country masters AI first wins… “ (Clinton Watts).

In November, I attended a crypto party [29] presentation [30] at the Free Words Centre in Farringdon Road. A discussion was held on how we are imagining the future to be, focusing on personal privacy. Insights on this included the combined effects of big data and AI and how this plays out on us. The panel was Vinous Ali, Glyn Moody and Alejandro Saucedo, chaired by Silkie Carlo. Glyn Moody gave us a gloomy vision of the future where he imagined China’s advancement of AI use in surveillance to spill over into the West. The use of reputation systems as an outcome of surveillance is already in place in China. Moodie described how the Social Credit System developed by the Chinese government aims to standardise an assessment of both personal and corporate economic and social reputation. This is all made possible by a combination of big data and mass surveillance glued together by AI. If the individual has a poor personal rating it may impact upon that person’s personal freedom to travel, exclusion from private schools, obtaining loans and one’s personal Internet speed entitlement. Moodie imagined the UK to follow on China’s path in the next ten years, driven by commerce rather than government. His opinion was that by then, goverments will be insignificant in their influence.

Perhaps better researched work are given by Antonia Hmaidi at the Chaos Computer Club conference in December 2018. Her proposal was that the Chinese credit system is more nuanced than Moodie would have it. The Chinese love the idea of a social credit system as they see it offering efficiency and promoting trust, not as the West portrays it negatively, as a top-down spying-Orwellian exercise. Clearly there is a divide on how the world sees the use of technology and use of collected of data for good or ill. The Chinese system also is less dependent on AI, relying upon a rules-based system that adds or removes points based directly on behaviour actions – these are applied to one’s personal merit score. For the presentation go here.

Imagining 2019 – How will AI feature this year?

I have included examples of how AI will be a threat to the world, but we cannot ignore the benefits as well. Autonomous vehicles will very likely be a more common sight on our roads. A robot trolley containing a delivery item passes me on my way home from college last year, across a big roundabout on the Old Kent Road. No-one gives it a second glance. I am sure the driverless car safety will result in fewer road traffic accidents overall, despite fatalities occurring in the nascent stages if the technology. If we are to be concerned, the challenge will be to manage social change that AI brings about, minimising the predicted one-way ticket to mass unemployment.  Medicine may become cheaper, facilitated by AI, perhaps as an adjunct to hospital consultant expertise or minimising less human error in the manual detection of early stages of disease, culminating in reduced cost of healthcare systems. Another example, the detailed surveillance of ecosystems, using AI prediction and pattern analysis, solving how to slow down our planet’s demise, or avoidance of the escalation of wars/crime with AI prediction systems.

Are we being too pessimistic? Does the immediacy of technology force a dystopian reflection back at us?

I am confident, that for good or for evil, from now on we will be playing catch-up with AI, as its genesis causes the new turn to take place.


[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/PechaKucha

[2] https://archive.org/details/FutureShock-Toffler/page/n167

[3] Automating Inequality Virginia Eubanks

[4] https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/facebook-rohingya-muslim-women-ethnic-cleansing-burma-myanmar-socila-network-rakhine-state-a7954791.html

[5] https://www.theguardian.com/technology/live/2017/oct/31/facebook-google-twitter-congress-russian-election-meddling-live

[6] https://aws.amazon.com/rekognition/

[7] https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2016/may/11/facebook-moments-facial-recognition-app-europe

[8] https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2018/10/india-plans-face-recognition-technology-decongest-airports-181004151831786.html

[9] https://www.theverge.com/2018/2/27/17054740/palantir-predictive-policing-tool-new-orleans-nopd

[10] https://azure.microsoft.com/en-us/services/cognitive-services/face/

[11] https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-5817621/Cambridge-Analytica-former-CEO-Alexander-Nix-revealed-Facebook-scandal-questioning.html

[12] https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2018/mar/19/uber-self-driving-car-kills-woman-arizona-tempe

[13] https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2018/mar/31/tesla-car-crash-autopilot-mountain-view

[14] https://gizmodo.com/google-is-helping-the-pentagon-build-ai-for-drones-1823464533

[15] https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2018/apr/10/zuckerberg-facebook-testimony-latest-news-regulation-congress

[16] https://qz.com/1268231/a-toeic-test-led-the-uk-to-deport-thousands-of-students/

[17] https://www.businesstimes.com.sg/technology/shareholders-urge-amazon-not-to-sell-facial-recognition-technology-to-police

[18] https://www.firstpost.com/tech/news-analysis/microsoft-employees-write-open-letter-demanding-cancellation-of-ice-contracts-4548641.html

[19] https://www.theverge.com/2018/6/22/17492106/amazon-ice-facial-recognition-internal-letter-protest

[20] https://www.beckershospitalreview.com/artificial-intelligence/ibm-s-watson-recommended-unsafe-and-incorrect-cancer-treatments-stat-report-finds.html

[21] https://www.nytimes.com/2018/07/26/technology/amazon-aclu-facial-recognition-congress.html

[22] https://theintercept.com/2018/08/01/google-china-search-engine-censorship/

[23] https://theintercept.com/2018/09/06/nypd-surveillance-camera-skin-tone-search/

[24] https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/28/technology/facebook-hack-data-breach.html

[25] https://www.cnbc.com/2018/12/10/google-shutting-down-social-network-sooner-because-of-new-security-bug.html

[26] https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-10-08/google-drops-out-of-pentagon-s-10-billion-cloud-competition

[27] https://mozillafestival.org/

[28] https://youtu.be/503Yup0wpIk

[29] https://www.cryptoparty.in/

[30] https://freeword.org/event/cryptopartyldn-privacy-2028/

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