By: Sarah Mullinix
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this post are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect views of the Journal, the William H. Bowen School of Law, or UA Little Rock.
Artificial intelligence (i.e., AI) is a word many people have only recently begun using in their everyday vocabulary. Despite the fact that many people have only just begun to use “AI” comfortably in everyday language, AI and its lesser forms have been looming inside (and outside) of the homes of people from all over the world for well over a decade.
What began as an occasional feeling of being “tracked”, has suddenly become a fact of life that is hard to forget. Everyone is being “tracked” in infinite ways, all of the time. “My phone must have heard our conversation about cranberries…now I can’t get my phone to stop advertising cranberries…I absolutely hate cranberries.”Over the last few years, I have heard countless conversations like this, where people publicly complain about how uncomfortable they are with the algorithms used in AI and are concerned for their privacy. Even though I knew the term “AI ”, prior to this fall, I still could not put a name to what it was that bothered me so much about my cellphone. At first, I blamed Facebook…I got rid of it (or I tried). Then, I thought it was Apple’s fault, but that didn’t check out either because the same thing happened to everyone regardless of their cell phone carrier.
A recent study revealed that 60 percent of participants felt uncomfortable with AI being used in medical care settings, and even more alarming, 78 percent of participants believed that the use of AI in medical settings would make their relationships with their healthcare providers worse. While this study may highlight a lack of public understanding as to how AI can be beneficial in medical settings, it also demonstrates the reality that most Americans are not ready to abandon traditional means of communication with one another for the sake of AI.
Despite the general belief that AI makes it easier for people to financially prosper, the U.S. income inequality gap has widened significantly since the 1980s. AI-generated data is contributing silently but significantly to a change in how the top 1 percent of people in the United States generate (and withhold) wealth. Although AI makes information cheaper, faster, and easier to obtain, the economic inequality gap only continues to grow as algorithmic robots replace human presence in the public workplace & the necessity for real-life human labor decreases.
By diminishing the necessity of traditional forms of human interaction, AI and the state of the current algorithm are a threat to democracy as we know it. Hannah Arendt defined totalitarianism as “a system that eradicates all of the boundaries between public and private life” and warned that totalitarian regimes do not aim to persuade the public, but rather they aim to immerse the public into a “fictitious reality” in order to compel them through modern technology. Arendt essentially warned about algorithmic technology and its potentially dangerous effects on democracy in 1951, long before the public had a word for what the algorithm or AI was.
The algorithm and the use of AI is not a bad thing in and of itself. Regardless, the continual evolution of AI is inevitable. The underlying issue with AI and the state of the current algorithm is the lack of public knowledge about the all-powerful tool coupled with the unequal gap in accessibility to that knowledge. There is also a disproportionate gap in bargaining power between the consumers of AI (the majority of people, whose consumption created AI) and those profiting directly from the evolution of AI platforms (the minority, top 1 percent).
This lack of public knowledge about what the AI tool is really doing, or on the contrary, the abundance of too much available information and too little guidance on what that information truly means, makes it extremely difficult for the public to collectively call for a specific change in American AI law in order to preserve necessary economic, social, and political forms of being. This is a problem we will continue to face, and we must do our research, take action, and pay attention to what we are really doing before we get too distracted.