This blog originally appeared in the Human Infrastructure Magazine, a free, twice-monthly Packet Pushers newsletter about the impact of technology on our work and lives. Sign up here. Or not. It’s up to you.
A few months ago, a handful of corporations with a vested interest in gathering and analyzing as much personal information as possible founded an industry consortium with the laughably insincere name “Partnership on Artificial Intelligence to Benefit People and Society.”
Consumers and citizens should start to pay attention when an industry consortium feels compelled to tell them that something is for their benefit.
The founding members of the partnership are Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Amazon, and IBM. These companies are keenly aware of the profits to be made from advances in machine learning and AI, and have voracious appetites for human-generated data across a variety of fields including commerce, social interaction, and health care.
The aims of the partnership, as noted in the press release, are to partner with academics, researchers and ethicists to “recommend best practices, and publish research under an open license in areas such as ethics, fairness, and inclusivity; transparency, privacy, and interoperability.”
Those are laudable goals. But does anyone believe that a recommendation or best practice that emerges from this body will have any impact on the behavior of these corporations when real money is at stake?
I read this partnership as a sop to public concerns over serious issues like privacy and transparency, and an effort to get out in front of government regulations.
It’s the kind of thing corporations can point to and say “We as an industry take your concerns seriously, and we’ve set up a toothless, non-binding organization into which we can chuck those concerns.”
In the spirit of more accurate labeling, here’s a few other names the partnership might want to consider:
- Smart Computers Are Totally Nice And Not At All Something To Fear Or Question
- Please Don’t Ask To Look Inside The Blackbox Algorithms that Will Make Major Decisions About Your Life
- An Industry Consortium That Can Be Safely Ignored When Profits, Market Dominance, And Citizens’ Privacy Are At Stake