The AI overlords will rule your future!

Hamline student Nicole Espinoza gathered with peers on the evening of Nov. 1 to discuss her findings on AI algorithms that capture people’s data.

Reagan Clark, Life Reporter

Anika Besst

Nicole Espinoza is a member of the We Are Not Robots or Numbers (W.A.R.N.) club, which dedicates its time to researching and educating people on the harsh reality of digital addiction and technological exploitation. Nicole felt the need to educate fellow students on her findings after spending this past summer in Great Britain researching the impact of advancing technology. 

Artificial intelligence, or AI, is often thrown around; however, the general population must know what it truly entails. The term artificial intelligence encompasses both computer science and data analytics. Essentially, it is hardware or software capable of thinking, behaving or performing actions in the same way as a human. Additionally, machine learning is a subset of AI. The concept of machine learning is that it enables a machine to imitate intelligent human behavior by optimizing tasks. 

Here is where things like algorithmic bias come into play:

The forefront of Nicole’s research is algorithmic bias, the systematic and repeatable errors in a computer system that create unfair outcomes. Unfair outcomes such as privileging one category over another least different from the intended function of the algorithm. This unfairness includes both racial and gender bias. The best representation of algorithmic bias is facial recognition technology. Facial recognition technology is software with a camera that scans and recognizes facial features. 

Inspired by books such as George Orwell’s 1984, Nicole is intrigued by the future of technology, particularly AI algorithms. Nicole dove into her interest in technology through her study away trip to Great Britain this past summer. There, she experienced firsthand the bias that often comes with AI.

“When I was at Heathrow Airport, it was disturbing to see their system recognize some faces over others,” she said. 

Nicole detailed how her (white) face went through just fine. However, she stated that the technology “did not recognize a black man’s face, it did not recognize an Indian man’s face, it had trouble recognizing an Asian man’s face.” 

So for a technology that’s supposed to be so advanced, it still discriminates against some people and identities. 

Algorithmic bias is not something new. One of the earliest examples of algorithmic bias was in 1958 for St. George’s medical school. Sixteen minority men and women were denied entry due to a computer assessment system. The later research detailed that having a non-European name could take as much as 15 points off a student’s score. So if someone did not have a “regular” name at the time, they were less likely to get admitted, which caused much outrage for the right reasons.

Nicole then furthered her presentation by diving into the negatives of advancing technology. Nicole put some fear into her audience by claiming a scary reality for cities. 

“Even the world’s advanced cities are not ready for the disruptions of artificial intelligence,” she said. 

With technology, the efficiency of a task has increased tenfold, which is why AI could be ready to replace humans soon. A rise in technology ensures that machines and technology can now achieve tasks that humans could do earlier. There is no requirement to think or recall information because everything is instantly available to us in a giant database. We will even use some devices to exchange humans, just like a self-service touch screen at a restaurant. 

An overarching theme in Nicole’s presentation is the apparent nature of the general population. 

Technology has the potential to be dangerous and the majority of the population does not know that there is bias within AI, as only some people are able to sit in one of Nicole’s presentations. As users of technology and supporters of AI, we are oblivious to its effects, and Nicole educates us that that is where the actual danger lies. In the end, we will say that technology has its advantages and drawbacks. It is up to the users to decide whether the great overshadows the bad. Moreover, it makes someone consider  if where technology takes us is worth what it might cost us.