Society for Cultural Anthropology
Oral Presentation Session
Jacob Metcalf (Data & Society)
danah boyd (Data & Society, Microsoft Research)
Following a series of ethical, political, and reputational crises, the technology industry and the broader public are now taking seriously the need for something called “AI Ethics”. This can be seen from public protests, the first hints of regulation, and the new executive roles dedicated to ethics initiatives inside companies. Despite the volume of discourse around the topic, what “AI Ethics” currently is, and what it may become, is not at all clear. While aspects of this move toward AI Ethics is clearly responding to scandals and crises of the recent past, and is informed by institutional responses to ethical crises of the more distant past, much of the current debate is anticipatory in nature. Questions about what the future capabilities of artificial intelligence might be, and what kinds of societal harms it may eventually produce figure strongly in the framing of the ethical response to this technology. Similarly, imaginings of the capacity to constrain these tools and hold them accountable to society also anticipate regulatory and technological capabilities that do not yet exist. Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork, textual sources, and extensive interviews in Silicon Valley with those who have taken on a central role in the development of the AI Ethics discourse, this paper examines how the future figures as central to current debates about AI Ethics, and how this anticipatory project shapes the current concerns of the tech industry and is mobilized as a resource to maintain and extend the legitimacy of actors in this field.