365体育官方网站

(FILES) In this file photo a statue of Confederate States President Jefferson Davis lies on the street after protesters pulled it down in Richmond, Virginia, on June 10, 2020. - The symbols of the Confederate States and its support for slavery are being targeted for removal following the May 25, 2020, death of George Floyd while in police custody. (Photo by Parker Michels-Boyce / AFP) (Photo by PARKER MICHELS-BOYCE/AFP via Getty Images)
Image credit: PARKER MICHELS-BOYCE via Getty Images

Latest in Tomorrow

    Image credit: PARKER MICHELS-BOYCE via Getty Images

    DeepMind and Oxford University researchers on how to 'decolonize' AI

    A new lens for thinking about race and artificial intelligence.
    Chris Ip,
    July 28, 2020
    217 Shares
    Share
    Tweet
    Share

    Sponsored Links

    365体育官方网站Sometimes it’s tempting to think of every technological advancement as the brave first step on new shores, a fresh chance to shape the future rationally. In reality, every new tool enters the same old world with its same unresolved issues.

    In a moment where society is collectively reckoning with just how deep the roots of racism reach, a new paper from researchers at DeepMind — the AI lab and sister company to Google — and the University of Oxford presents a vision to “decolonize” artificial intelligence. The aim is to keep society’s ugly prejudices from being reproduced and amplified by today’s powerful machine learning systems.

    The paper, published this month in the journal , has at heart the idea that you have to understand historical context to understand why technology can be biased.

    365体育官方网站“Everyone's talking about racial bias and technology, gender bias and technology, and wanting to mitigate these risks, but how can you if you don't understand a lot of these systems of oppression are grounded in very long histories of colonialism?” Marie-Therese Png, a co-author, PhD candidate at the Oxford Internet Institute and former technology advisor to the UN, told Engadget. The paper’s other authors were DeepMind senior research scientists Shakir Mohamed and William Isaac.

    “How can you contextualize, say, the disproportionate impact of predictive policing on African Americans without understanding the history of slavery and how each policy has built on, essentially, a differential value of life that came from colonialism?” Png said.

    365体育官方网站Almost every country in the world was at some point nations. Decoloniality is about understanding these historic exploitative dynamics, and how their residual values are still alive in contemporary society — and then escaping them.

    As an example, the paper points to algorithmic discrimination in law enforcement disproportionately affecting people of color in the US, which recently has been . It also connects “ghost workers”, who perform the low-paid data annotation work that fuels tech companies as a kind of “labor extraction” from developing to developed countries which mimics colonial dynamics.

    365体育官方网站Similarly, the authors see beta testing of potentially harmful technologies in non-Western countries — Cambridge Analytica tried its tools on Nigerian elections before the U.S. — as redolent of the medical experiments by the British empire on its colonial subjects or the American government’s infamous Tuskegee syphilis study in which African-American men with the disease were told to come for treatment and instead were observed until they died.

    365体育官方网站As Png says, one of coloniality’s core principles is that some lives are worth more than others. The fundamental issue for AI — which can literally quantify the value of humans — was put by co-author Mohamed in a two years ago: “How do we make global AI truly global?” In other words: How can AI serve both the haves and have-nots equally in a world which does not?

    365体育官方网站The paper ultimately spells out guidance for a “critical technical practice” in the AI community — essentially for technologists to evaluate the underlying cultural assumptions in their products and how it will affect society with “ethical foresight.”

    The “tactics” the paper lists to do this span algorithmic fairness techniques to hiring practices to AI policymaking. It speaks of technologists learning from oppressed communities — giving examples of grassroots organizations like — to reverse the colonial mentality of “technological benevolence and paternalism.”

    365体育官方网站Implicitly, the authors are calling for a shift away from a longstanding tech culture of supposed neutrality: the idea that the computer scientist just makes tools and is not responsible for their use. The paper was being written before the filmed death of George Floyd at the hands of the Minneapolis police, but the event — and a subsequent national reckoning with race — has brought into focus the question of what role tech should play in social inequity. Major AI institutions like and the conference have made public statements supporting Black Lives Matter, which at least ostensibly signals a willingness to change.

    365体育官方网站“This discourse has now been legitimized and you can now talk about race in these spaces without people completely dismissing you, or you putting your whole career on the line or your whole authority as a technologist,” said Png.

    “My hope is that this renewal of interest and reception to understanding how to advance racial equity both within the industry and in broader society will be sustained for the long run,” said co-author Isaac.

    "You can now talk about race in these spaces without people completely dismissing you, or you putting your whole career on the line or your whole authority as a technologist."

    What this paper provides is a roadmap, a conceptual “way out” of the sometimes-shallow discussions around race among technologists. It’s the connective tissue from today’s advanced machine learning to centuries of global history.

    But Png says that decoloniality is not a purely intellectual exercise. To decolonize would mean actively dismantling the technology that furthers the inequality of marginalized communities. “We're trying to argue a proper ceding of power,” she said.

    AI supercharges the idea that those who can’t remember the past are condemned to repeat it: if AI doesn’t remember the past, it will reify, amplify, and normalize inequalities. Artificial intelligence provides the veneer of objectivity — you cannot debate with an algorithm and often you cannot understand how it’s reached a decision about you. The further AI pervades our lives, the harder it becomes to undo its harms. 

    365体育官方网站“That's why this moment is really important to put into words and identify what these systems are,” said Png. “And they are systems of coloniality, they are systems of white supremacy, they are systems of racial capitalism, which are based and were born from a colonial project.”

    365体育官方网站This research also raises the question of what new types of AI could be developed that are decolonial. Isaac pointed to organizations working towards similar visions, like or . But this area has little precedent. Would decolonial AI mean embedding a non-Western philosophy of fairness in a decision-making algorithm? Where do we categorize projects that involve writing code in and other languages?

    365体育官方网站On these points, Png is unsure. The pressing issue right now, she said, is the process of decolonizing the world we’re already living in. What AI would look like when truly divested of any colonial baggage — when the mission isn’t merely to fight back, but to build a legitimately fresh and fair start — is still speculative. The same could be said about society at large.

    All products recommended by Engadget are selected by our editorial team, independent of our parent company. Some of our stories include affiliate links. If you buy something through one of these links, we may earn an affiliate commission.
    Share
    217 Shares
    Share
    Tweet
    Share

    Popular on Engadget

    Engadget's 2020 Back-to-School Guide

    Engadget's 2020 Back-to-School Guide

    View
    Trump executive order seeks to ban TikTok, WeChat 'transactions' in 45 days

    Trump executive order seeks to ban TikTok, WeChat 'transactions' in 45 days

    View
    Sony WH-1000XM4 review: The best just got better

    Sony WH-1000XM4 review: The best just got better

    View
    20GB of Intel internal documents were leaked online

    20GB of Intel internal documents were leaked online

    View
    Disney has no idea what it's doing with 'Mulan'

    Disney has no idea what it's doing with 'Mulan'

    View

    From around the web

    DeepMind and Oxford University researchers on how to 'decolonize' AI | Engadget DeepMind and Oxford University researchers on how to 'decolonize' AI | Engadget DeepMind and Oxford University researchers on how to 'decolonize' AI | Engadget DeepMind and Oxford University researchers on how to 'decolonize' AI | Engadget DeepMind and Oxford University researchers on how to 'decolonize' AI | Engadget DeepMind and Oxford University researchers on how to 'decolonize' AI | Engadget DeepMind and Oxford University researchers on how to 'decolonize' AI | Engadget