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Mon May 22, 2023, 10:49 AM

There was all sorts of toxic behaviour': Timnit Gebru on her sacking by Google, AI's dangers and big


There was all sorts of toxic behaviour’: Timnit Gebru on her sacking by Google, AI’s dangers and big tech’s biases

The Ethiopian-born computer scientist lost her job after pointing out the inequalities built into AI. But after decades working with technology companies, she knows all too much about discrimination

John Harris
Mon 22 May 2023 01.00 EDT

It feels like a gold rush,” says Timnit Gebru. “In fact, it is a gold rush. And a lot of the people who are making money are not the people actually in the midst of it. But it’s humans who decide whether all this should be done or not. We should remember that we have the agency to do that.”

… as well as something that the frenzied conversation about AI misses out: the fact that many of its systems may well be built on a huge mess of biases, inequalities and imbalances of power. This gathering, the clunkily titled International Conference on Learning Representations, marks the first time people in the field have come together in an African country – which makes a powerful point about big tech’s neglect of the global south. …

The clear danger, the paper said, is that such supposed “intelligence” is based on huge data sets that “overrepresent hegemonic viewpoints and encode biases potentially damaging to marginalised populations”. Put more bluntly, AI threatens to deepen the dominance of a way of thinking that is white, male, comparatively affluent and focused on the US and Europe.

These sources are usually scraped from the world wide web and inevitably include material usually subject to copyright (if an AI system can produce prose in the style of a particular writer, for example, that is because it has absorbed much of the writer’s work). But Gebru and her co-authors had an even graver concern: that trawling the online world risks reproducing its worst aspects, from hate speech to points of view that exclude marginalised people and places. “In accepting large amounts of web text as ‘representative’ of ‘all’ of humanity, we risk perpetuating dominant viewpoints, increasing power imbalances and further reifying inequality,” they wrote.

That conversation ascribes agency to a tool rather than the humans building the tool,” she says. “That means you can aggregate responsibility: ‘It’s not me that’s the problem. It’s the tool. It’s super-powerful. We don’t know what it’s going to do.’ Well, no – it’s you that’s the problem. You’re building something with certain characteristics for your profit. That’s extremely distracting, and it takes the attention away from real harms and things that we need to do. Right now.”


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Reply There was all sorts of toxic behaviour': Timnit Gebru on her sacking by Google, AI's dangers and big (Original post)
cbabe Monday OP
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Mon May 22, 2023, 10:46 PM

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