Artificial intelligence is creating a new colonial world order


MIT Technology Review’s new AI Colonialism series, which will be publishing throughout this week, digs into these and other parallels between AI development and the colonial past by examining communities that have been profoundly changed by technology. In part onewe head to South Africa, where AI surveillance tools, built on the extraction of people’s behavior and faces, are re-entrenching racial hierarchies and fueling a digital apartheid.

In part two, we head to Venezuela, where AI data-labeling firms found cheap and desperate workers amid a devastating economic crisis, creating a new model of labor exploitation. The series also looks at ways to move away from these dynamics. In part three, we visit ride-hailing drivers in Indonesia who, by building power through community, are learning to resist algorithmic control and fragmentation. In part four, we end in Aotearoa, the Maori name for New Zealand, where an Indigenous couple are wresting back control of their community’s data to revitalize its language.

Together, the stories reveal how AI is impoverishing the communities and countries that don’t have a say in its development — the same communities and countries already impoverished by former colonial empires. They also suggest how AI could be so much more — a way for the historically dispossessed to reassert their culture, their voice, and their right to determine their own future.

That is ultimately the aim of this series: to broaden the view of AI’s impact on society so as to begin to figure out how things could be different. It’s not possible to talk about “AI for everyone“(Google’s rhetoric),”responsible AI”(Facebook’s rhetoric), orbroadly distribut[ing]”Its benefits (OpenAI’s rhetoric) without honestly acknowledging and confronting the obstacles in the way.



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