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  • Andrew Sears

Who's to Blame for Bad AI?

The Independent recently published my essay exploring the roots of unethical technologies in our socioeconomic systems and consumption behaviors. I used Amazon's Rekognition -- a racially biased AI product that is marketed and sold to law enforcement -- as a case study to explore how the "evil corporation" trope distracts us from examining deeper issues. I encourage ethical technology advocates to pay more attention to systemic causes and to examine how our consumption habits fail to hold companies accountable for unethical products and business models.

The paywalled article can be viewed in full here:

You can also download a free pdf version by clicking on the button below:

Who is to Blame for Bad AI
Download PDF • 81KB

Here are some excerpts from the article that capture its main points:

"We need to widen our lens and put into focus the system within which technology companies operate. The system is the collection of beliefs, incentives, and institutions within which companies make their decisions, including concepts like regulation, the market, consumerism, and liberalism. We also need to put into focus the individual people that technology products serve, along with all of their desires, virtues, vices, fears, and aspirations. In particular, we need to focus on the power that individuals have to affect change and their responsibility to wield that power. If we change either the rules of the system or the behaviors of individuals, companies must change in response."


"America has a system that says the sole responsibility of public companies is to maximize shareholder wealth; that rewards speed-to-market and punishes thoughtful innovation; that gives no ownership stake or voice to the communities that bear the consequences of corporate decisions. As we are reminded at this moment, we have a system that reflects America’s darkest sins, that perpetuates centuries of inequality and oppression. A temporary change to Amazon’s sales policy does nothing to address these deeper problems that allowed Rekognition to go ahead in the first place."


"During the time that Amazon has been selling Rekognition, the number of Amazon Prime subscribers has grown 50 per cent from 100 to 150 million people. Everyday people like you and me have joined regulators and shareholders in failing to hold Amazon accountable for its behavior. Prime turns out to be an irresistible product for people who have been conditioned to express ourselves through consumption, to love immediacy and convenience, to place our hope in the acquisition of material goods."

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