Whether it’s in the workplace, the school system or the Government’s AI Summit, the overriding sense I get from the surge in prominence of data and AI technologies - and the haste to respond to it - is one of confusion and even chaos.
I’ve been speaking to parents and education workers about the datafication of schools. They seem to have little control or meaningful consent over the boom in EdTech in the classroom. Key questions about how this impacts a child’s learning experience, a teacher’s workload or safeguarding children’s privacy seem to have been skipped over in haste. Play equipment is regulated to ensure its safe and appropriateness. But in contrast to a rigid and tightly controlled curriculum, potentially transformative technologies are bought and sold without any meaningful guidance, input from those affected or evidence base to support the claims by vendors.
As part of a project with Wales TUC, focus groups with workers are revealing a cloud of uncertainty and concern about how AI is affecting them, and even why it is being introduced in the first place.
On a different plane, the Government’s loudly proclaimed ‘Global Summit on AI Safety’ has not yet been followed with any details or shape.
While calling for regulation and warning of AI-induced extinction, developers dump powerful models and applications into the world and utilise the population (and all our data) as a testbed.
I’m reminded of the Jurassic Park scene where Jeff Goldblum’s character berates the theme park owners who have cloned dinosaurs. Goldblum seethes at the park’s owners: “your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not you could, they didn’t stop to think if they should”.
This is not about holding back change. But that not all change is equal or desirable, not just running with change because it is possible.
As the ‘socio-technical transition’ cascades downstream, we need to find a way to channel and direct it for socially useful ends. History shows that this won’t be some by-product of the chaotic market, but will need to be shaped by other influences - and who gets to influence that means this is a political and contestested question.
My focus over the next while will be working to strengthen the forums and means for a wide range of people to assert their needs and perspectives and gain some meaningful influence amid the chaos - whether that’s school governance, industrial organising or at the highest levels of international pageantry.
What I’m reading
I’m a Luddite (and So Can You!) – The Nib - an excellent short comic on how - despite its association with mindless technophobia - the Luddites were a sophisticated and forward thinking movement with strong relevance for our times
Owen Bennett-Jones · Anti-Anglicisation: Welsh Second Homes · LRB 27 July 2023 - Not data or AI related, but an excellent narrative and analysis of how well-meaning policies get entangled in complexity
2023 Landscape - AI Now Institute - The AI Now Institutes powerful report on confronting tech power