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AI Is Racist


About once a month, we hear about another AI application that turns out, shockingly, to be racist or sexist, frequently both.

This is not a surprise, and it’s time for the entrepreneurs who sell this snake oil to do something new.

What is called AI in these cases – artificial intelligence – is in fact not related to intelligence at all. I will spare you the philosophy, but there’s been lots of great writing on the subject of intelligence. I’m not aware that anyone has defined it yet, however.

Machine learning is, in effect, a weighted average of – something. Most often, it’s graphics or writing that has appeared on the internet. The weighting is done by an algorithm.

So we have people embedded in a society characterized by structural racism and sexism trying (or not) to avoid racism and sexism writing how to do a weighted average. We know that those structural factors are likely to creep in even with the best of intentions. And then, haha, a selection of material from the racist and sexist internet. That’s much dicier, even with the best of intentions.

I understand that the venture capitalists need a black hole to drop their money into and that (mostly) male nerds will follow their needs to remove human beings from their interactions, encouraged by industries that don’t want to pay salaries. But could we not pretend to be surprised at that?

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