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The Unbearable White Maleness of AI

Dame Magazine: “We have entered the era of the cute “AI” stunt, and its implications are more immediately disconcerting than the looming specter of a robot apocalypse (and certainly more amusing). The gag goes something like this: A journalist, tasked with covering “artificial intelligence,” asks a computer program to do something for them, such as write a paragraph or two, draw a silly picture, make restaurant recommendations, or answer a question about itself. Thus edified, the writer makes pronouncements about the future of AI and possibly the future of humanity. The success of the stunt hinges on not looking too closely at whether “artificial intelligence” actually exists (it doesn’t, and won’t for a long time, if ever, but that semantic ship has sailed). It’s a lot more fun to pretend like you’ve “handed [your] autonomy” over to a computer for a day than it is to acknowledge that going wherever ChatGPT sends you for breakfast is no more interesting or futuristic than Googling “good pancakes nearby” and heading wherever the “I’m Feeling Lucky” button lands you. Men—especially white dudes, bless their hearts—seem particularly susceptible to the conceit of so-called “AI,” even ones who otherwise seem pretty smart (and Elon Musk). Nothing gets to the heart of this better than comedian Avery Edison’s very good joke: “I wrote ‘I am alive’ on a piece of paper, and placed it into a photocopier. What I saw next has shocking implications.” This is where we’re at: A bunch of guys hollering “It’s aliiiiiiiiiiive!” whenever they send ChatGPT-generated emails because some other guys programmed a powerful autocorrect software to issue the results of mathematical calculations in the first person. Whether they’re hollering out of terror or excitement, both reactions assume the same posture, defaulting to the presumption that “AI” must either be conquered or capitulated to. It’s why we have AI’s most prominent detractors calling for a pause in development to avert the apocalypse, and AI’s thirstiest hypesters arguing that it’ll be the end of the world if we do stop now. Win and live or lose and die. Control, never cooperate. It’s no accident that the word “robot” is derived from a Slavic term for “forced labor,” or that our digital assistants Siri and Alexa have feminine names and voices, or that some facial recognition software literally cannot identify people of color. Ensuring that technological advancements serve the most privileged at the expense of everyone else is a core principle of empire, and thus of digital colonialism, and what some of the world’s most forward-thinking AI ethicists are now calling “AI colonialism.”

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