Atlas of AI, book review: Mapping out the total cost of artificial intelligence


Atlas of AI: Energy, Politics, and the Planetary Expenses of Synthetic Intelligence • By Kate Crawford • Yale College Press • 336 webpages • ISBN: 978–300-20957- • £20   

“Check with forgiveness, not permission” has long been a guiding basic principle in Silicon Valley. There is no technological area in which this basic principle has been far more practiced than the equipment discovering in contemporary AI, which relies upon for its existence on giant databases, almost all of which are scraped, copied, borrowed, begged, or stolen from the giant piles of knowledge we all emit day by day, knowingly or not. But this knowledge is hardly at any time rigorously sourced with the subjects’ permission.  

“Due to the fact we can,” two sociologists explain to Kate Crawford in Atlas of AI: Energy, Politics, and the Planetary Expenses of Synthetic Intelligence, by way of acknowledging that their academic establishments are no diverse from technology businesses or governing administration businesses in regarding any knowledge they uncover as theirs for the using to teach and exam algorithms. Visuals turn out to be infrastructure. This is how equipment discovering is manufactured. 

All people needs to communicate about what AI is very good or hazardous for — pinpointing facial images, interpreting speech commands, driving cars (not but!). Several want to pour ethics above today’s AI, as if building rules could change the army funding that has described its basic character. Couple of want to focus on AI’s real fees. Kate Crawford, a senior researcher at Microsoft and a research professor at the College of Southern California, is the exception. 

In Atlas of AI, Crawford starts by deconstructing the renowned contention that ‘data is the new oil’. Usually, that leads people to communicate about data’s financial worth, but Crawford focuses on the simple fact that each are extractive technologies. Extraction is mining (as in ‘data mining’ or oil wells), and wherever mining goes, so observe environmental problems, human exploitation, and profound modern society-wide consequences.  

Crawford underlines this position by heading to Silver Peak, Nevada, to visit the only functioning lithium mine in the US. Lithium is, of course, a very important part in battery packs for anything from smartphones to Teslas. Crawford follows this up by taking into consideration the widening implications of extraction for labour, the resources of knowledge, classification algorithms, and the country-state behaviour it all underpins, finishing up with the energy constructions enabled by AI-as-we-know-it. This way lies Project Maven and ‘signature strikes’ in which, as former CIA and NSA director Michael Hayden admitted, metadata kills people. 

Snake oil

Still some of this is patently phony. Crawford traces back the picture datasets on which the newest disturbing snake oil — emotion recognition — is based mostly, and finds they have been constructed from posed pictures in which the subjects have been informed to present exaggerated illustrations of emotional reactions. In this circumstance, ‘AI’ is produced all the way down. Is there, as Tarleton Gillespie requested about Twitter trends, any true human reflection there? 

Although other technology guides have tackled some of Crawford’s matters (far too many of which have been reviewed below to checklist), the closest to her integrated structural approach is The Expenses of Link by Nicholas Couldry and Ulises A. Mejias, which views our present technological reconfiguration as the beginnings of a new partnership involving colonialism and capitalism. 

“Any adequately advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic,” Arthur C. Clarke famously wrote. Adhering to Crawford, this seems to be far more like: “Any technology that seems to be like magic is hiding some thing.” So many dark tricks lie in how the sausage is manufactured. 

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Maria J. Danford

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