Let’s talk about how to democratize AI Research & Development

Loosening Silicon Valley’s Grip

For all the growing interest and hype around artificial intelligence, most of us still know very little about how this technology is being developed. Although, the academic community has been involved in the development of AI for many years now, there’s a growing industry/academia nexus taking place — and with Silicon Valley’s increasing involvement. Not surprisingly, the AI industry has now become a high stakes industry, with much of the research and development taking place behind closed doors. Although, you can’t totally blame the industry for this closed door policy, (since there is certainly a great market incentive and competitive advantage to keeping a tight lip on your AI efforts), the lack of transparency is both alerting and concerning.

Silicon Valley is already a fairly closed off, elite and mono-culture sub-world- made up of mostly white, mostly ivy-league educated men. As a public university-educated woman of color (hi CUNY!), I always struggle to shake off a sense of being an “outsider” or “imposter” whenever Im in the Valley…..and Ive been working in the technology sector for close to ten years! I cant even begin to imagine what other women, people of color, public school educated people outside of the tech world must feel. Additionally, to think that there’s an even smaller, even more closed off community within the Silicon Valley bubble, quite frankly sets off an array of distressing feelings inside.

For a technology that will have such broad social and economic implications, should we just wait and see, or should we demand greater transparency and accountability during this critical research and development phase?

So far, all we’re getting is secrecy. Google has created an artificial intelligence (AI) ethics board, when it acquired London AI startup DeepMind in 2014. However, many articles have been written about the notorious secrecy over who sits on that board and what they actually do. The only information we get is the light-hearted story about Google’s AI AlphaGo beating out the world-class player Lee Se-dol for a fourth time. Yet, not much more about how Deep Mind plans to apply its algorithms to other areas such as healthcare and robotics.

The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy has taken notice, most recently making efforts to assemble working groups and running public workshops with experts to discuss the societal implications of AI in society. So, there’s great headway being made to understand both the practical and ethical implications that AI will have on society. However, my general feeling is that, this is not enough. Discussion of AI have to go further, beyond the tight academic communities who have an interest in this area. It has to go down to the publics, to those who may have the most to lose by these technologies?

How can we do that? Will you help me do that?

This four part series will explore the AI Industry as it stands today and opportunities for loosening Silicon Valley’s grip on AI R&D and democratizing knowledge and participation in this area.

Stay tuned for more!

Technologist/Scholar/Advocate @datasociety wilneida.com

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