There’s more attention on AI’s influence than ever before. Let’s make it count.
A year ago, none the wiser about what 2020 would bring, I reflected on the pivotal moment that the AI community was in. The previous year, 2018, had seen a series of high-profile automated failures, like self-driving-car crashes and discriminatory recruiting tools. In 2019, the field responded with more talk of AI ethics than ever before. But talk, I said, was not enough. We needed to take tangible actions. Two months later, the coronavirus shut down the world.
In our new socially distanced, remote-everything reality, these conversations about algorithmic harms suddenly came to a head. Systems that had been at the fringe, like HireVue’s face-scanning algorithms and workplace surveillance tools, were going mainstream. Others, like tools to monitor and evaluate students, were spinning up in real time. In August, after a spectacular failure of the UK government to replace in-person exams with an algorithm for university admissions, hundreds of students gathered in London to chant, “Fuck the algorithm.” “This is becoming the battle cry of 2020,” tweeted AI accountability researcher Deb Raji, when a Stanford protestor yelled it again in response to a different debacle a few months later.