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A feminist view on the "Pause Giant AI Experiments: An Open Letter"

Updated: Jun 15, 2023

Did you read the open letter about “Pausing Giant AI Experiments”? The letter, posted on the Future of Life Institute website, warned of potential risks surrounding AI, and that its development is dangerously out of control. The letter was signed by more than 1,000 AI experts in a very short span of time.

The positive: this letter shows the importance of AI, its disruptive power, but at the same time the need for regulation. With over 200 ethical guidelines in the AI universe, the call for harmonization makes a lot of sense (this is not new news, guys!).

Another positive aspect, comparable to ChatGPT's word-of-mouth, is that this letter raises awareness about AI development and helps bring debates about human rights and technology into the mainstream discourse.

The perplexing thing: This issue should have been on the radar of tech giants for years! They are actively lobbying against regulation in the US and Europe.

From discussions between FemAI – Center for Feminist Artificial Intelligence and policymakers in Germany, the EU, and the EU Delegation in Washington, we know how Brussels is lobbying against strong regulation of AI. From experts in this area the sentences: “is this a joke?” wasn’t mentioned only once.

The negative: interrupting the progress of AI would be difficult to enforce. We are in the process of taking responsibility with the underlying regulation. In this open letter, a dystopian view on the future is offered. This reminds me of movies like “The Terminator” or “Her” and forms a public perception that is driven by technophobia and overpromising technological developments far away from the reality. Being alarmed might be reasonable, but it is not the time to go into shock paralysis.

AI Governance, AI policy, and hence AI developments requires a positive vision of the future we all want to live in. That means taking action, not pausing! To do this, it is important to include different perspectives from the global north and the global south. The petition represents mostly the #white-male perspective on this issue.

People, who designed discriminatory AI-systems, are also the once’s who shine with their names at the beginning of the signature list. For years, researchers, NGOs, activists, politicians, and companies are working on raising awareness for the threats of unregulated AI developments and usage – only with small success so far.

I am waiting to see the impact of this letter and responses from the different perspectives. Stopping AI development is, in my view, a marketing statement - but a catchy one!

My current sense is that this letter has reached a high point in the debate about AI development and regulation that could be useful to policymakers and NGOS. At the same time the Open Letter was singed at this moment in time by over 20.000 people. However, voices such as Bill Gates say "I don't think asking one particular group to pause solves the challenges," Gates remarked on Monday 3rd of April to Reuters. "Clearly there's huge benefits to these things... what we need to do is identify the tricky areas."

From a feminist perspective, I would like to question why this letter was needed to create a mainstream debate, although female, trans, BIPoc and other marginalised experts speaking about the current AI developments and its threats for years? I would like to suggestion to take a moment to imagine how AI can do #good, such as fighting climate change, and prepare for the EU #AIAct and its implications (Brussels effect). Companies should focus on the upcoming regulation as a baseline to build higher standards. It is time to take responsibility instead of denying it.

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