5 questions to Meredith Broussard

With help from Derek Robertson

Welcome back to our regular Friday feature, The future in five questions. Today we have Meredith Broussard, author of several books on the limits of technology, including the award-winning tome “Artificial Unintelligence.” Broussard is associate professor of data journalism at NYU, where she focuses on the limits of cutting-edge technology. She was previously a software developer at AT&T Bell Lab and the MIT Media Lab.

Responses have been edited for length and clarity.

What is an underrated great idea?

The idea that algorithmic systems are inherently biased. Ruja Benjamin, in his book “Race After Technology” has this really useful framework, which is that algorithmic systems discriminate by default.

To really understand what’s going on inside a computer model, you have to wrestle with complicated math…it’s one of the things that complicates our conversations about the social consequences of algorithmic systems. Often people in power will try to intimidate others by saying, “Oh, this is a hard math thing, you wouldn’t understand it, trust me.” But it is a power grab. This is not engaging in democracy. It’s pushing people away.

What is one technology that you think is overrated?

In addition to all, you mean? I’m very proud to be one of the first to sound the alarm on self-driving cars. The thing that worries me the most about self-driving cars right now is that they are racist.

There is a study at Georgia Tech, where researchers looked at the image recognition algorithms used in self-driving cars and found that they are less effective at seeing dark-skinned people. In Arizona, an autonomous car ran into a woman rolling a bike across the street and killed her.

We know that there are social issues inherent in all of these technologies. So the idea that people want to put two-tonne killing machines on the streets – knowing that there will be a differential impact on who is going to be hit and killed by these machines – is absurd to me.

Which book shaped your conception of the future the most?

I’d say it’s actually a collection of books, all of which promised a future that never materialized.

All the science fiction I ever read was always about this bright, technologically enabled future. Once I was in the workforce for 20 years, I realized that those promises of a bright technological future were outdated. Every time someone invoked Arthur C. Clarke and his vision of what the future was going to be…it was very pale, masculine, and Yale.

And none of those promises ever came true. I discovered something interesting when I was researching “artificial inintelligence”. Marvin Minsky, who is considered the father of artificial intelligence, was very good friends with Arthur C. Clarke. I actually lived in Minsky’s house for a little while. So there is a lot of confusion between what is real and what is imaginary. A lot of people who are on the cutting edge of technology actually want science fiction to be real, don’t they? So Minsky was literally trying to bring some of Arthur C. Clarke’s fictional ideas to life.

What could the government be doing about technology that it is not doing?

We need better tech literacy in Washington. We need technology regulation.

The first thing is to regulate technology in different industries the same way we already regulate those industries. Let’s look at mortgage approval algorithms. It’s illegal to discriminate against protected classes in mortgage approvals, if you’re human, right? The same standard should be applied to technology. We should simply enforce existing laws in technological systems. It is a starting point.

I mean, why did we fight so hard in the civil rights era just to have everything reversed by machine-created inequality?

What surprised you the most this year?

That so many people take the metaverse seriously. And also that Facebook managed to distract everyone from Facebook’s whistleblower revelations simply by changing the company’s name.

The thing about the metaverse is that we have, we’ve been through this before, haven’t we? We had the whole era of Second Life, when people were like, “Oh, yeah, Second Life is this virtual space. And it’s going to be where everybody’s going to hang out in the future, and everybody’s going to have meetings.” And it didn’t work out that time.

The world finally has an idea of ​​what the new headset from Pico, the VR company owned by TikTok creators ByteDance, is can and can’t do – and perhaps more importantly, where you can and can’t get it.

Everything about the Pico 4 – and the company’s presentation of its fitness apps, beefy processing specs and nascent ‘Horizon Worlds’-like social space – would seem to suggest the headset is set to compete with Meta’s Quest. But the company has no plans to sell the Pico 4 in the United States at this time (although the site Reported digital trends the company plans to bring its business-focused Enterprise variant to the US at some point). So what gives, given the otherwise robust push the company is giving its headphones, including an expansion into Europe?

One argument is that ByteDance don’t think it’s worth the time and money – again – to compete with a company the size of Meta in the United States But there are also, like us noted last week, the inopportune timing for Pico’s parent company which is under scrutiny for its operation of TikTok and its close ties to the Chinese government. If Pico makes a big push in the US, it may need to include political persuasion as well as consumer type. — Derek Robertson

Big company clearly deeply believe in the metaverse.

This has led some to wonder if there isn’t some kind of chicken-or-egg scenario at play in the company’s “metaverse strategy”, especially as McKinsey predicts a metaverse market. potential of $5 trillion by 2030 and companies as seemingly analogous as Crate & Barrel declare the need for an “impactful presence”.

Jason Kint, CEO of digital media strategy firm Digital Content Next, tweeted yesterday that McKinsey’s prediction is “pretty crazy even with a ‘might’ ahead” and “theoretically possible but highly unlikely”.

Much like crypto and Web3, the challenge the metaverse currently faces is that the big investment it has inspired is often claimed as proof of its relevance – but their real impact is largely limited, for now, to that investment. same. This means that until a virtually embodied Internet arrives, unlikely arenas like video game and workplace management could be its most concrete political borders. — Derek Robertson

Stay in touch with the whole team: Ben Schrecker ([email protected]); Derek Robertson ([email protected]); Constantin Kakaes ([email protected]); and Heidi Vogt ([email protected]). Follow us @DigitalFuture on Twitter.

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