Conceptions of the Social That Stand Behind Artificial Intelligence Decision Making

By Monberg, John | Journal of Technology Studies, Winter 2006 | Go to article overview

Conceptions of the Social That Stand Behind Artificial Intelligence Decision Making


Monberg, John, Journal of Technology Studies


Abstract

AI proponents possessed a seemingly odd predilection to tell stories about times in which no stories are or will be told. Their stories cover a range of time that exceeds that of human experience, beginning with a kind of creation myth about competing songs that are parasitic on the behavior of apes to trajectories of progress in which Man is finally superseded by Machine. AI researchers, funders, and enthusiasts attempt to redefine fundamental social and political concepts of intelligence, meaning, and agency. Their redefinitions emphasize a calculating, controlling, one-dimensional form of rationality, serving to legitimize and extend the power of an already powerful elite. AI theorists ignore the social ground of intelligence, the connection between their computers and the world, and most importantly, the connection between society and their own work. If we accept their claims as true, then their definitions re-order and restructure the social spaces we inhabit.

Introduction

When the 1980s began, computers were not part of the fabric of everyday life for most educated Americans, instead they were understood to be large, expensive mainframe machines requiring specialized facilities and the care of experts. By the end of the decade, personal computers, owned by millions of Americans became a familiar part of the cultural landscape, from Hollywood movies to New Yorker cartoons. During this time period artificial intelligence (AI) had matured as an academic discipline. The promises made about the possibility of computer-based intelligence that had been made for decades attracted government funding and media attention, but these promises were unfulfilled as the decade ended. This critical time period offered a chance for reflection about the place of science and technology in the world, in particular a focus on core aspects of intelligence.

To a great extent, the opportunity for reflection about intelligence was lost. This opportunity was foreclosed because the stories that explained and justified the artificial intelligence project were carefully constructed by proponents so that the chaos, uncertainty, and social and environmental complexity built into the deepest core of AI was left out of their stories. AI proponents possessed a seemingly odd predilection to tell stories about times in which no stories are or will be told. Their stories cover a range of time that exceeds that of human experience, beginning with a kind of creation myth about competing songs that are parasitic on the behavior of apes to trajectories of progress in which Man1 is finally superseded by Machine (Feigenbaum and McCorduck 1983). Upon careful reading of these stories, a common theme emerges. Through their stories, AI researchers, funders, and enthusiasts attempt to redefine fundamental social and political concepts of intelligence, meaning, and agency. Their redefinitions emphasize a calculating, controlling, one-dimensional form of rationality, serving to legitimize and extend the power of an already powerful elite (Hoffman 1990).

I begin by briefly describing the context in which the AI efforts originated and expanded. The second part of this article explores the social aspects of intelligence and meaning making, aspects which set fundamental limits for any asocial, disembodied AI project. The final section examines the rhetoric of two AI partisans. I critique Marvin Minsky's connectionist form of a Society of the Mind and the Cyc mega-expert system project because they are prominent accounts of the major strands of the AI enterprise.

Ideas arise in a culture and they are shaped by that culture. These ideas in turn, can function to generate political capital, furthering the interests of their proponents. Support can accrue in direct forms, for example, increased levels of funding for specific projects. More importantly, support can be garnered in indirect forms by generating increased legitimacy for a certain type of political order. …

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