Thanks to my colleague Yasmeen, I was included in an important CFREF, Bridging Divides – Research and Innovation led by Anna Triandafyllidou at Toronto Metropolitan University. Some of the topics I hope to work on include how information technology is being used to surveil and manage immigrants. Conversely, how immigrants use information technology.
Mitigating the risk of extinction from AI should be a global priority alongside other societal-scale risks such as pandemics and nuclear war.
The Center for AI Safety has issued a very short Statement on AI Risk (see sentence above.) This has been signed by the likes of Yoshua Bengio and Geoffrey Hinton. I’m not sure if it is an alternative to the much longer Open Letter, but it focuses on the warning without any prescription as to what we should do. The Open Letter was criticized many in the AI community, so perhaps CAIS was trying to find wording that could bring together “AI Scientists” and “Other Notable Figures.”
I personally find this alarmist. I find myself less and less impressed with ChatGPT as it continues to fabricate answers of little use (because they are false.) I tend to agree with Elizabeth Renieris who is quoted in this BBC story on Artificial intelligence could lead to extinction, experts warn to the effect that there are a lot more pressing immediate issues with AI to worry about. She says,
“Advancements in AI will magnify the scale of automated decision-making that is biased, discriminatory, exclusionary or otherwise unfair while also being inscrutable and incontestable,” she said. They would “drive an exponential increase in the volume and spread of misinformation, thereby fracturing reality and eroding the public trust, and drive further inequality, particularly for those who remain on the wrong side of the digital divide”.
All the concern about extinction has me wondering if this isn’t a way of hyping AI to make everyone one and every AI business more important. If there is an existential risk then it must be a priority, and if it is a priority then we should be investing in it because, of course, the Chinese are. (Note that the Chinese have actually presented draft regulations that they will probably enforce.) In other words, the drama of extinction could serve the big AI companies like OpenAI, Microsoft, Google, and Meta in various ways:
- The drama could convince people that there is real disruptive potential in AI so they should invest now! Get in before it is too late.
- The drama could lead to regulation which would actually help the big AI companies as they have the capacity to manage regulation in ways that small startups don’t. The big will get bigger with regulation.
I should stress that this is speculation. I probably shouldn’t be so cynical. Instead lets look to what we can do locally.
Michael Brown has written a nice article in the U of Alberta folio on COVID-19 contact tracing reveals ethical tradeoffs between public health and privacy. The article quotes me extensively on the subject of the ethics of these new bluetooth contact tracing tools. In the interview I tried the emphasize the importance of knowledge and consent.
- Users of these apps should know that they are being traced through them, and
- Users should consent to their use.
There are a variety of these apps from the system pioneered by Singapore called TraceTogether to its Alberta cousin ABTraceTogether. There are also a variety of approaches to tracing people from using credit card records to apps like TraceTogether. The EFF has a good essay on Protecting Civil Rights During a Public Health Crisis that I adapt here to provide guidelines for when one might gather data without knowledge or consent:
- Medically necessary: There should be a clear and compelling explanation as to how this will save lives.
- Personal information proportionate to need: The information gathered should fit the need and go no further.
- Information handled by health informatics specialists: The gathering and processing should be handled by health informatics units, not signals intelligence or security services.
- Deleted: It should be deleted once it is no longer needed.
- Not be organized due to vulnerable demographics: The information should not be binned according to stereotypical or vulnerable demographics unless there is a compelling need. We should be very careful that we don’t use the data to further disadvantage groups.
- Use reviewed afterwards: The should be a review after the crisis is over.
- Transparency: Government should transparent about what they are gathering and why.
- Due process: There should be open processes for people to challenge the gathering of their information or to challenge decisions taken as a result of such information.
Jessie Marchessault at Concordia has a nice essay on the TAG site on Locative Gaming in the time of COVID-19. I hadn’t thought of how Niantic would be responding to Covid-19 and changing their locative games, except when I saw a small group obviously still playing in a park the other day. As Marchessault points out, the community and Niantic have adapted. Niantic has found ways to make the game playable at home, but they have also done it in a way that increases revenue.
It would be interesting to see if they could include bluetooth proximity services that might tell you that you are getting too close to other players.
Today I gave a short talk at the Digital Synergies Launch Event. The launch included neat talks by colleagues including:
- Nicolás Arnaez talked about and showed The Lost Garden an audio game project led by Scott Smallwood.
- Dr. Rob McMahon & Amanda Almond talked about a neat augmented reality project that engaged with indigenous relations titled We Are All Related AR.
- Dr. Astrid Ensslin talked about her recently published book, Approaches to Videogame Discourse .
- Yourui Guo talked about the Sounding the Garden app for the multisensory Aga Khan Garden.
I showed and talked about Lexigraphi.ca – The Dictionary of Worlds in the Wild. This is a social site where people can upload pictures of text outside of books and documents and tag the words – text like tatoos, graffiti, store signs and other forms of public textuality.
I’ve been playing the augmented reality game, Harry Potter: Wizards Unite and rather enjoying it. It is a locative game that resembles Ingress and, in fact, is from the same company Niantic which also made Pokémon Go. It encourages you to walk around to finish daily goals and to get portkeys.
In the game you trace spells to free people who have been confounded and you get into duels. It is free to play, but you have to buy gold with which to buy other things if you want to move the game along faster. I found that I didn’t need much gold as long as I didn’t want to play for more than an hour a day.
The game has a Harry Potter feel with a certain amount of humour. At times I felt I was grinding and there were bugs. I liked the portkey idea which lets one see through to another space.
Operation Jane Walk appropriates the hallmarks of an action roleplaying game – Tom Clancy’s The Division (2016), set in a barren New York City after a smallpox pandemic – for an intricately rendered tour that digs into the city’s history through virtual visits to some notable landmarks. Bouncing from Stuyvesant Town to the United Nations Headquarters and down the sewers, a dry-witted tour guide makes plain how NYC was shaped by the Second World War, an evolving economy and the ideological jousting between urban theorists such as Robert Moses and Jane Jacobs. Between stops, the guide segues into musical interludes and poetic musings, but doesn’t let us forget the need to brandish a weapon for self-defence. The result is a highly imaginative film that interrogates the increasingly thin lines between real and digital worlds – but it’s also just a damn good time.
Aeon has a great tour of New York using Tom Clancy’s The Division, Skip the bus: this post-apocalyptic jaunt is the only New York tour you’ll ever need. It looks like someone actually gives tours this way – a new form of urban tourism. What other cities could one do?
Queer places are, by definition, sites of accretion, where stories, memories, and experiences are gathered. Queer place, in particular, is reliant on ephemeral histories, personal moments and memories. GoQueer intends to integrate these personal archives with places for you to discover.
I recently downloaded and started playing the iOS version of GoQueer from the App Store. It is a locative game from my colleague Dr. Maureen Engel.
Engel reflected about this project in a talk on YouTube titled Go Queer: A Ludic, Locative Media Experiment. Engel nicely theorizes her game not once, but in a doubled set of reflections show how theorizing isn’t a step in project design, but continuous thinking-through.
You can also see an article reflecting on this game by the title, Perverting Play: Theorizing a Queer Game Mechanic.
Torn Apart is a curation and visualization of publicly available data concerning ICE, CBP facilities, and usages. Also lists of allied and pro-immigrant facilities.
At DH 2018 I heard Roopika Risam speak about the impressive critical digital humanities Torn Apart / Separados project she is part of. (See my conference notes here.) The project is rightly getting attention. For example, the Inside Higher Ed has a story on Digital Humanities for Social Good. This story presents Torn Apart / Separados as an answer to critiques about the digital humanities that they are not critical enough and/or lack interpretative value. (See Stanley Fish’s Stop Trying to Sell the Humanities.) The Inside Higher Ed article rightly points out that there have been socially engaged digital humanities projects for some time.
What I find impressive and think is truly important is how nimble the project is. This project was imagined and implemented in “real” time – ie. it was developed in response to events unfolding in the news. It was also developed without a grant and by a distributed team of volunteers. Thats what computing in the humanities should be – a way to think through issues critically not a way to get funding.
Edmonton has released a new mobile app called SmartTravel. The new mobile app issues verbal safety warnings to Edmonton drivers. You can get live warnings as you drive or before. Interesting idea.