It was leaked that you had an exchange with Elon Musk regarding the risks posed by AI. [Ed note: Musk said he had told the Chinese government that AI might eventually be able to overtake it, and Raji responded by questioning the safety of today’s driverless cars, like the autopilot feature in a Tesla.] Can you tell me more about that?
You know, it wasn’t just Elon. That was the one that got out. There was another CEO that was talking about curing cancer with AI, saying we have to make sure that it’s Americans that do that, and just narratives like that.
But first of all, we have medical AI technology that is hurting people and not working well for Black and brown patients. It’s disproportionately underprioritizing them in terms of getting a bed at a hospital; it’s disproportionately misdiagnosing them, and misinterpreting lab tests for them.
I also hope that one day AI will lead to cancer cures, but we need to understand the limitations of the systems that we have today.
What was it that you really wanted to achieve in the forum, and do you think you had the chance to do that?
I think we all had substantial opportunities to say what we needed to say. In terms of whether we were all equally heard or equally understood, I think that’s something that I’m still processing.
My main position coming in was to debunk a lot of the myths that were coming out of these companies around how well these systems are working, especially on marginalized folks. And then also to debunk some of the myths around solving bias and fairness.
Bias concerns and explainability concerns are just really difficult technical and social challenges. I came in being like, I don’t want people to underestimate the challenge.
So did I get that across? I’m not sure, because the senators loved saying that AI is gonna cure cancer.
It’s so easy to get caught up in the marketing terms and the sci-fi narratives and completely ignore what’s happening on the ground. I’m coming back from all of this more committed than ever to articulating and demonstrating the reality, because it just seems like there is this huge gap of knowledge between what’s actually happening and the stories that these senators are hearing from these companies.
What else I’m reading
- I just loved this story from Jessica Bennett at the New York Times about what it’s like to be a teen girl with a cell phone today. Bennett kept in touch with three 13-year-olds over the course of a year to learn about the ins and outs of their digital lives. Highly recommend!
- This social reflection on privacy by Charlie Warzel in the Atlantic has stuck with me for a few days. The story gets at the overwhelming questions we—certainly I—have about what we can do to preserve our privacy online.
- The United Nations General Assembly convened in New York this past week, and one big topic of discussion was, of course, AI. Will Henshall at Time did a deep dive into what we might expect from the body on AI regulation.
What I learned this week
A Disney director tried to use AI to create a soundtrack reminiscent of the work of symphonist Hans Zimmer—and came up disappointed. Gareth Edwards, director of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, told my colleague Melissa Heikkilä that he was hoping to use AI to create a soundtrack for his forthcoming movie about … AI, of course! Well, the soundtrack fell flat, and Edwards even shared it with the famous composer, who he says found it amusing.
Melissa wrote, “Edwards said AI systems lack a fundamentally crucial skill for creating good art: taste. They still don’t understand what humans deem good or bad.”
In the end, the real Zimmer wrote the melodies for Edwards’s upcoming movie, The Creator.