Robo laws

On controlling AI, mould breaking writing, music streaming and shopping bots.

I’ve been reading Frank Pasquale’s recent book on the New Laws of Robotics. The book seeks to defend human expertise and agency, resisting the tide of AI’s more techno-utopian leanings. This is no rejection of AI, rather it is an attempt at navigation. It emphasise the need to develop more thoughtful intersections the human and the robotic. A difficult balancing act. Pasquale (2020: 1) argues that what is needed is the ‘ability to cultivate wisdom about this balance’.  At the centre of the book Pasquale makes the point that there is now a need to extend Isaac Asimov’s famous and influential laws of robotics by adding four new laws, each of which responds to particular contemporary challenges.   

Let me pick up briefly on the second and fourth of Pasquale’s new laws. Law two demands that ‘robotic systems and AI should not counterfeit humanity’ (Pasquale, 2020: 7). The phrase ‘counterfeit humanity’ is an interesting one. It suggests that the human can be undermined by the presence of a robotic pretence. Pasquale’s second law is implicitly suggesting that we should find ways to make human and robotic systems distinctive from one another. The robotic should not aim to replicate the human, it is suggested, and should not be developed with the aim of usurping the human by copying distinctly human properties or roles - or by tricking people into thinking these automated systems are actually human actors. In effect, from this perspective the robotic should not aim to be human or to replace the human, and should always be identifiable. This type of concern is likely to have been fuelled by the work Pasquale completed for his previous book on algorithms and secrecy. Clearly there is an ideal embedded here about maintaining a separation of human and machine, and it poses questions about finding ways to maintain that separation.

Pasquale’s (2020: 11) fourth new law of robotics states that ‘robotic systems and AI must always indicate the identity of their creator(s), controller(s), and owner(s)’. This law is aimed at delineating responsibility. It is suggestive of the need to create the conditions in which robotics are created, controlled and owned - with these three things being trackable and clearly defined. Underpinning this law is the implication that creation, control and ownership may be potentially blurred and that the ‘balance’ of human and robotics may be skewed in what are seen to be potentially damaging ways. This fourth law brings to the fore the tensions of responsibility, discretion and accountability that automation can bring. 

Reading through Pasquale’s book, these two laws imply the imbalance and damage that might be caused by the potential invisibilities and unknowns of artificial intelligence. On one side is the loss of the ability to distinguish the human and the robotic, on the other side is the loss of a clear sense of ownership and control. These two laws capture a potential sense of the unknown and, without action, a coming unknowability. New Laws of Robotics covers a great deal more ground, but these two laws are striking in terms of what they suggest and just how hard they already look like they might be to achieve.

AI quick…

Whilst on AI, bots are being trained to be the quickest to get bargain purchases from retail outlets. On the surface this might seem like a lighthearted story, but it illustrates how this technology can change the functioning of markets and can concentrate the potential to generate revenues into the hands of those who know how to deploy it. If it can do so in this marketplace it can do so in other market based spaces. Of course, such practices of getting an edge have been going on in the use of algorithms in trading for a while now. Perhaps it is spreading further.

Organic content…

Elinor Carmi has written a piece for Real Life magazine about social media’s organic myth (there is also a link to an audio version of the article). Carmi sets out the problems with understanding what happens in social media as somehow being natural and the misconception that content circulation can be organic. Instead the article points out how the structures of the sites are made to take that appearance.

Writing things…

Here is a radio programme about ‘mould-breaking writing’.

Early doors…

Stuart Elden discusses his project on Foucault’s early work here and his book on Shakespearean Territories here.

Revenue streams…

The prevention of musicians from performing to audiences seems to have focused attention on the deal they get for the consumption of their music. The business models of music streaming sites have been one of the things called into question. In this talk David Hesmondhalgh looks at the situation and asks whether music streaming is bad for musicians.

Staying on music, here are two interesting podcasts: Rowetta from the Happy Mondays and Steve Chandrasonic Savale from Asian Dub Foundation talking about their music and biographies.