IEEE Technology and Society Magazine - June 2021 - 8

Editorial
principle unable to bear responsibility simply by
virtue of it having being synthesized rather than
evolved (what would the defining characteristic
be?). In considering the task of trying to create a
synthetic machine coextensive with the human
mind, it is clear to see that in many aspects we are
so far away from this: we do not even have all the
right questions to ask yet. In many other aspects,
however, we have already wildly surpassed it.
Yet, philosophically interesting and morally
essential as this discussion is, it can also be used as
a weapon of mass distraction. To return to and ram
home the distinction identified earlier: There is AI as
synthetic mind, the largely yet unrealized potential to
create mind-like machines, and there is " AI " as marketing,
as a speech act, used to evoke a perception
of some technology. There is a manifest difference
between what AI is marketed as and what AI is,
could, and perhaps should be. The problem with the
current debate around " trustworthy AI " is that it conflates
" AI " as marketing with AI as (usually a potential
future) synthetic mind. This is disingenuous or
misinformed. Possibly it is both. Take your pick.
Let us be more concrete: In the article referred to
above [1], the word (acronym) " AI " was used more
than once, to describe a system that would watch
individuals by a camera and alert supervisors if, for
example, they were using a phone, or away from
their desk. Perhaps the most important observation
here was that, whilst there is a reference to " AI, " in
fact what is being done is the ascription of intelligence
to a system using classification techniques to
deal with a large amount of video data (and quite
possibly things like keyloggers). In other words,
from the computer science point of view: signal processing,
pattern recognition, classification, and rule
checking. " Intelligence " is a little too extreme a word
to ascribe to these activities. Indeed, if this monitoring
task was given to a human, we might describe it
as rather " mindless. " This is not to say that there isn't
mind-like something happening, but words have
consequences. The way they are used has power.
Ascribing intelligence to such tools reinforces
disempowerment and devaluation of the human
based on expectations. It also reinforces the asymmetric
power balance between bureaucracy (which
inherently makes and expects rules to be followed)
and humanity (or intelligence) shown by the " workers. "
As David Graeber might have noted, this is
8
the epitome of the Utopia of Rules combined with
Bullshit Jobs [8], [9].
The term " AI " is used by those who would deploy
it, here and elsewhere, in order to reinforce the preconceived
ideas that we have as humans and skew
the resultant experience away from human and
toward rule. It is a power speech act. It is clear, on
reflection, that the usual suspects referred to above
already know that this is the case. The way in which
" AI " is used today is proof enough of that.
If this is the case, and " AI " (as marketing) is a
speech act intended to create or reinforce an asymmetry
of power, at which point should it be trusted?
(This was sarcasm). Indeed, as a speech act, " AI " is
no more than a proxy for the people who deploy it at
the expense of those who are subjected to it. It serves
very well as an exercise in deflection and distraction:
having us " trust " the " AI " and see it as different
and separate suits the people who deploy it because
it puts them at least one remove from accountability.
In a similar example, Walmart in the U.S. and
ASDA in the U.K. have been rolling out what some
have dubbed " AI janitors " to replace cleaning staff in
their stores.2 This may be a perfectly sensible application
of robotics, but again the use of " AI " for such
a role, here largely by the media in reporting it, is
curious. We might venture to suggest that firms hiring
cleaners do not have " intelligence " high on the list
of requirements for potential staff, though ironically
they may have " trustworthiness. " Thankfully, Walmart's
VP was more restrained, announcing simply
that " BrainOS is a powerful tool in helping our associates
complete repetitive tasks so they can focus on
other tasks within role and spend more time serving
customers. "
We suggest that it would be hard to see that there
isn't something intentionally evocative about software
labeled " BrainOS. "
All of our vaunted " AI " technology is, at least
plausibly, artificially intelligent, in that it embodies
in some way " computers that do the sorts of things
that minds can do " [10, p. 1]. But words have consequences,
and the use of " AI " as a speech act can
be dangerous. To be clear, this is not about the rightness
or wrongness of people trusting AI or some
other automaton since they almost certainly will
anyway, just as they do with all manner of artifacts,
animals, and various others, regardless of whether
2https://www.cnbc.com/2018/12/05/walmart-will-use-hundreds-of-ai-robot-janitorsto-scrub-store-floors.html
IEEE
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https://www.cnbc.com/2018/12/05/walmart-will-use-hundreds-of-ai-robot-janitors-to-scrub-store-floors.html https://www.cnbc.com/2018/12/05/walmart-will-use-hundreds-of-ai-robot-janitors-to-scrub-store-floors.html

IEEE Technology and Society Magazine - June 2021

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