Greg Lindsay's Blog

February 25, 2023  |  permalink

Elon University & Pew: The Future of Human Agency

I’m thrilled and honored to be among the dozens of visionaries and critics quoted in Elon University’s Imagining the Internet Center and the Pew Research Center’s new report on the future of human agency in a world of ubiquitous AI. Considering the rapid advances — and all-too-obvious lack of oversight — when it comes to large language models such as OpenAI’s ChatGPT, this report could not have arrived at a better time.

I’m batting ninth in a murderer’s row including Douglas Rushkoff, Devin Fidler, danah boyd, Jamais Cascio, Paul Saffo, and Ben Waber — and those are just the people I happen to know! — but I’m happy to share my contributions nonetheless:

“Humans will be out of the loop of many important decisions by 2035, but they shouldn’t be. And the reasons will have less to do with the evolution of the technology than politics, both big and small. For example, given current technological trajectories, we see a bias toward large, unsupervised models such as GPT-3 or DALL-E 2 trained on datasets riddled with cognitive and discriminatory biases using largely unsupervised methods. This produces results that can sometimes feel like magic (or ‘sapience,’ as one Google engineer has insisted) but will more often than not produce results that can’t be queried or audited.

“I expect to see an acceleration of automated decision-making in any area where the politics of such a decision are contentious – areas where hard-coding and obscuring the apparatus are useful to those with power and deployed on those who do not.

“In the face of seemingly superior results and magical outcomes – e.g., an algorithm trained on historical crime rates to ‘predict’ future crimes – will be unthinkingly embraced by the powers that be. Why? First, because the results of automated decision-making along these lines will preserve the current priorities and prerogatives of institutions and the elites who benefit from them. A ‘pre-crime’ system built on the algorithm described above and employed by police departments will not only post outcomes ad infinitum, it will be useful for police to do so. Second, removing decisions from human hands and placing them under the authority of ‘the algorithm,’ it will only make it that much more difficult to question and challenge the underlying premises of the decisions being made.”

Read the whole report here.

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Greg Lindsay is a generalist, urbanist, futurist, and speaker. He is a 2022-2023 urban tech fellow at Cornell Tech’s Jacobs Institute, where he leads The Metaverse Metropolis — a new initiative exploring the implications of augmented reality at urban scale. He is also a senior fellow of MIT’s Future Urban Collectives Lab, a senior advisor to Climate Alpha, and a non-resident senior fellow of the Atlantic Council’s Scowcroft Strategy Initiative.

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