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HuffPo Op-Ed: AI as a tool for social justice

  • Opinion

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is an ubiquitous part of our daily lives. Particularly and inextricably, AI is linked to our online lives. Your every click and post is being mined by increasingly sophisticated algorithms. Whenever you search for something online, AI is there. AI helps us more successfully navigate real world traffic not just online traffic. And by helping us find information quickly or navigate city streets more effectively, it is easy to appreciate how AI can make our lives better sometimes. And there are some in the tech world who view AI as a panacea, capable of solving any cognitive task given enough time, computing power, and rich enough data sets. As two authors who live in Los Angeles, where the traffic is awful day and night, we certainly will not argue with some of the gains AI can bring to daily life. Google Maps and Waze have kept us sane on many occasions.

But AI is not always viewed with such a kind eye. Indeed, many in both the scientific community as well as the general public are increasingly concerned about the negative impact that AI may have on society. Some of these concerns, like killer robots may seem like dystopic science fiction fantasies, but weaponized drones guided by AI may not be so far fetched. There are also genuine concerns for job loss, as some traditional white collar jobs may be replaced by algorithms which are “happy” to perform dreary organizational tasks for a fraction of the cost of a human being. Moreover, ethicists, policy makers, pundits and tech billionaires have begun to worry about the future of society, particularly when AI is applied in arenas where humans have traditionally made decisions, such as medicine and the law. We are also sympathetic to these fears and think that they need to be taken seriously.

At USC, we have created a research center, The USC Center for AI in Society (CAIS), that offers a radical shift in perspective. Our center is founded on the idea that AI can be used to improve society and fight social injustice. From our perspective, the vast majority of the persons who benefit from AI currently are people who live with a certain amount of privilege. Largely, this is due to the fact that much of AI is wrapped up in the high-tech economy. Yet, many of the most impoverished parts of the world still struggle with internet access. Even here in the US, the digital footprints of homeless persons, for example, are far smaller than those of us who live in more affluent circumstances. We dare you to imagine how AI can be used to improve the lives of the disadvantaged.

Read more in Huffington Post.