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This article was published on June 17, 2021

These laughable depictions of AI can have serious consequences

Make computer scientists laugh, make them cry

These laughable depictions of AI can have serious consequences
Thomas Macaulay
Story by

Thomas Macaulay

Writer at Neural by TNW Writer at Neural by TNW

What do you imagine when you think about artificial intelligence?

For many of us, the question conjures up images from movies, novels, posters, and media reports. But these visualizations are often risibly unrealistic depictions of AI.

Just check out these beauties:

AI robot, meet monitor.
You’re a screen.
AI sexbots deserve legs too.
If serial killers made sexbots…
AI robots are super-smart.
Without a blackboard, how could robots master geometry?
My robot friend.
Pull me in, I’ve had enough.
An AI image from my nightmares.
A fittingly dreadful headline for a horrifying image.
Hello, robot me.
“It’s like looking in a mirror. Only… not.”

These images might make us laugh. Unfortunately, they can also mislead us about AI’s potential, reinforce stereotypes, and erase minorities from visions of the future.

[Read: Why entrepreneurship in emerging markets matters]

You might have noticed, for instance, the abundance of white, human-like bodies in the picture. A study by researchers at Cambridge University researchers explained that this visual framework can amplify discrimination, create new power hierarchies, and misrepresent the potential of AI.

A Twitter account called @notmyrobots maintains an archive of these depictions:

The @notmyrobots team say that their aim is to raise awareness of the risks of these portrayals:

Robotics, AI, and related technologies are often visualized in a way that is neither careful nor responsible. We observe that visualizations of these technologies frequently mix reality and (science) fiction, or the current state of technology with dystopian horror or utopian dreams. This only adds to the prevalent ignorance of what robotics, AI, and related technologies actually are (not) and can (not) do.

Even yours truly has been a target for their ridicule:

In fairness, illustrating artificial intelligence is a tough job for designers, and many organizations don’t have a budget for custom-made images. But creatives, academics, businesses, and journalists can do better than this.

I recognize the hypocrisy of criticizing something that I’ve perpetrated. Unlike AI, I’m vaguely self-aware. I also suspect that the above won’t be the last time one of my articles enters the @notmyrobots library.

But I’ll certainly try harder to find more realistic depictions of AI in the future — and hope that artists create more than I can use.

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