Scholar Kate Crawford speaks on the social implications of AI technology

Speaking to policy theorist Wendy Brown GS ’83, prominent artificial intelligence (AI) scientist Kate Crawford spoke about the environmental, moral and social dimensions of AI as a technology of data and physical extraction, including her thoughts on the future of technology.

Drawing on Crawford’s latest book, The Atlas of AI: Power, Politics and the Planetary Costs of Artificial Intelligence, the conversation looked at the role of AI in a capitalist framework, its inherent prejudices and efforts to democratize technology.

Crawford is a research professor of communications and science and technology studies at USC Annenberg and a senior principal researcher at Microsoft Research New York. Brown is a UPS Foundation Professor in the School of Social Science at the Institute for Advanced Studies.

The event began with Crawford explaining to the audience their intentions to write the Atlas of AI.

“The common representation of artificial intelligence is somewhere between science fiction and mathematical extraction,” she said.

The dangerous political implications of this presentation led her to write about artificial intelligence.

“We tend to narrow down AI within technical paradigms,” she said. “But AI is both social and technical practice. And it is also the infrastructures that underpin these systems. “

Because AI is neither entirely artificial nor intelligent, Crawford said she found AI an “absolute misnomer,” but still a useful, evocative term.

Crawford addressed three of the eight chapters of her book: “Earth”, “Work” and “Data”. In relation to the forms of human labor required for current AI and the increasing tendency for AI to treat humans like robots, Crawford criticized the use of artificial intelligence in social institutions such as education and healthcare.

“What I’ve seen for so many years is that AI generally expands the underlying power asymmetries,” she said.

Brown reinforced the role of the “Atlas of AI” in dispelling the myths of “AI as clean technology, labor-saving, neutral or impartial, and merely as technology”.

Brown also touched on Crawford’s interpretation of AI in the context of modern capitalism.

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“AI is entangled with capital. It depends on; it strengthens capital. But they regularly say that AI is capital, ”she said.

This led to further discussion about AI as an extractive industry. Brown summed up Crawford’s vision for future action necessary to mitigate the environmental, political, and social impact of AI.

“The democratization of the AI movement is very similar to the democratization of finance. There is a call for more universal access and the development of platforms that lower barriers to entry. Here democracy itself is reduced to inclusion, ”she said.

Crawford also spoke about the need for an interdisciplinary education in computer science that focuses on the people who are affected by these systems on a daily basis.

Citing the example of the recent protests in New York City against facial recognition in public housing, Crawford said, “The muscle we really need to exercise is the politics of denial.”

The dialogue was then opened to pre-submitted questions from the audience, both for those present in person and for the participants via Zoom.

“How dependent are future generations on technology or especially on AI?” Asked one viewer.

Crawford explained that whether the young generation is applying for a university or a job, they are constantly being assessed and profiled by AI in ways that are beyond their control.

Another question addressed the role of bias in AI.

“The systems kind of tell us what structural problems we already have,” Crawford said, referring to unintended gender biases in the Apple Card algorithm and Amazon’s résumé algorithm.

The session ended with Crawford speaking about Jeff Bezos ’86 and his “radical vision” for Blue Origin and technologies that make life beyond Earth easier.

“I would much rather see how we can repair and share the planet we have, which we know will sustain life, than looking at fantasies that are more ideology than fact,” she said.

The event was delivered by Princeton Public Lectures (PPL) on October 27 at 5 p.m. as part of the Louis Clark Vanuxem Lecture Series. It is the first in-person event by PPL since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Tara Agarwal is a news anchor for the ‘Prince’. She can be reached at