AI & Global Digital Futures

Breakneck speed advancements in artificial intelligence (AI) are predicted to transform every aspect of how people live, work and communicate. A growing body of work has begun to speculate on what the possible consequences of this “fourth industrial revolution” “second machine age” will be – not only to livelihoods of people whose jobs are threatened by automation but also to some of the fundamental existential questions facing humanity. These debates have usually oscillated between utopian and dystopian visions of the future. The more utopian approaches highlight the benefits of AI in fostering innovation, economic growth and improvements in health and cognition. The dystopian approaches, in turn, caution about the dangers of autonomous weapons, data surveillance, economic disruptions of automation, or the existential threats to humanity posed by the prospect of machinic superintelligence.

Despite the growing clamour about the many future promises and perils of AI – or more specifically advancements in deep neural networks combined with unprecedented access to large-scale datasets and computing power – these debates are still predominantly framed through the prerogatives of major Westerns countries such as the US or emerging global powers such as China. These powerful utopian and dystopian visions of our imagined digital future(s) thus risk neglecting the multitudinous perspectives emerging from smaller countries in the Global South who are also anxiously anticipating, exploring and orienting themselves to what these future disruptions will entail.

One theme of our research here at SOAS thus concerns how the future of society is increasingly imagined and contested in debates around AI globally. This idea is to explore how these complex political and philosophical debates are refracted in especially smaller countries in the Global South and outside the dominant West-centric debates. This work has involved the following initiatives:

Culture.trace – a more inclusive approach to AI

Together with the students of the Studies/Topics in Digital Culture courses, we curated and co-organised an event at the Barbican in the UK titled Culture.trace. This public research engagement event explored the relevance of AI to especially minority community debates in the UK through bringing together technologists, journalists, artists and academics to debate what a more inclusive approach to AI would look like in crime, healthcare, employment and computer vision.

Summer school in AI and Global Digital Futures

We are also organising a three-week summer school in “AI and Global Digital Futures” on this topic, focusing specifically on emerging debates on AI from a distinctly global perspective. The summer school will focus on the following themes:

You can find more about this here: https://www.soas.ac.uk/summerschool/subjects/ai/

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