catacomber (catacomber) wrote,
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Alison Adam

Alison Adam’s piece problematizes the value of the Artificial Intelligence industry for its male oversaturation. Her argument is rooted in constructionism, and weighs heavily on the notion that textual/lingual institutions create limited and limiting orders of power by virtue of the epistemologies of the people that contribute to them. The effect in this context is what boils down to simulation of male epistemology. The progenitors of this AI institution that she is of course referring to is the old computer “priesthood”, and the way that AI has come to refer to any process that can play chess well or solve other more ‘relevant’ problems of war.

Of course there is every reason to wonder if this is really all that we should expect from our cybernetic counterparts (comnputers, that is). Adam posits the possibility that there may indeed be other ways of representing and emulating the idea of intelligence, however elusive that may be.

She is almost apologetic at times for her critique because she uses examples that might appear innocuous. She refers to qualifying threads of belief in the system of epistemological AI called Cyc. These beliefs are strings of textual/referrential information that are part of the AI’s ‘perspective’, from which it draws to form statements and make actions. An example of one of the bits is the notion that driving more than 5 mph over the speed limit will not procure a ticket. She says, “Surely only a member of the prejudice-propagating co-believing community of academic feminism would query examples about speeding tickets” (88) She is referring to the “nonweirdness” of these belief-tagged bits of knowledge that are used to form the Cyc system’s database of beliefs. But she is in another sense quite serious about the possibility that such a thread of logic, although often widely accepted, generally reflect a male position. “Do more men than women get stopped?” (89) Of course, it’s a pertinent question.

The pertinence lies in the very thin line that gets crossed by relying on belief tags to proscribe mandatory actions. We use our epistemologies to order things. “What happens if other untagged and therefore unquestioned knowledge…saying how people ought to be—is put into the system?” (89)

It’s an easy step to take, really. All you have to do is believe that media and technologies are extensions of the self, and this theory snaps into place. It is foolish to believe that AI is a reflection of anything other than its creators, at least in the sense that it is certainly not a universal emulation of the old, genderless, classless, timeless, locationless view of divinely granted Intelligence (with a capital “I”).

Of course, her argument relies on a couple of things that I neither agree nor disagree with, but do raise my eyebrows a bit.

One potential bother is the need for the male in her argument. By institutionalizing the problems she is proposing, we are, in effect, forced to move away from the progressive ideas that were presented us by Donna Haroway. Briefly, that insisting that AI is more male, how are we not inadvertently reinforcing what exactly male means, particularly if you want to argue that the programmers were biologically male, and were not affording their programs any female/feminine characteristics or epistemological trajectories. Has not the biological argument been thoroughly scrutinized? At least Adam has a sense of humor about it by referring to her own field as “prejudice-propagating”. She does propose a progressive shift away from these fixed identities, but does not substantially untangle this paradox. If Haroway were to be put in conversation with Adam, I think the results might be interesting. I also think both of them might have to concede at least something in their respective arguments, if both of their thrusts are to be taken seriously and simultaneously.

The other potential problem I see is the belief in the possiblility there could be another kind of AI that isn’t somehow power enforcing. This isn't an argument she explicitly makes, but it is one that seems to stem inferrentially from her writing. I don’t see the problem of institutional power disappearing, only shifting locations. I have referred to this in the preceding entry, and don’t wish to belabor it much further. But I do want to point out that in the light of shifting ideologies, old problems may be accounted for, but Progress still remains and elusive concept.

Maybe we all just need to be Buddhist monks or something. (Just kidding.)
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