Artificial Intelligence: Concerns, Benefits, and Libraries

artificial intelligence

Gerd Leonhard

The city of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University are growing centers for the development of artificial intelligence and a recent Studio 1A program had an interesting panel discussion on the development of the technology and how it is impacting the city. I was struck by the discussion at the end of the panel summarizing artificial intelligence’s drawbacks and benefits. One important drawback was communicated through astrophysicist, Steven Hawking’s, quote from a few years ago that artificial intelligence would outpace humanity in development by the mid-21st century based on our differing rates of evolution. The real strength of computers is their speed of calculation and efficiency, and helped by algorithms developed by people that help them to learn independently, they can develop systems and environments faster than humanity without the input of emotions or ethical considerations. In a way it sounds like a scenario where parents raise children to be efficient and fast without teaching them values or community ethics. That is a world that concerns me.

It was also interesting to hear that one of the benefits of artificial intelligence was “freedom from pain” which sounds like a benefit until you hear how it echos the promise the arch-villian, IT,  gave to Meg, the hero, in the classic novel by Madeline L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time.  IT is an evil, disembodied brain that subjugated a whole planet to its will and in order to break down Meg’s resistance, IT promised her that if she gave in she would be free of the burden of having to make decisions and experiencing pain.

There are certainly benefits worth considering for artificial intelligence and knowing about them and how they work is crucial to our future. The benefits discussed in the Studio 1A program include how  a city transportation system driven by AI would be more efficient and would be likely to have less accidents. The core technology driving artificial intelligence is algorithms, the steps involved in solving problems and doing calculations. This 1-hour documentary,  The Secret Rules of Modern Living: Algorithms (available on Netflix or if your institution subscribes to Films on Demand), discusses what algorithms are and shows an example of how they are used to match kidney donors and recipients in the UK health system. matching algorithm graphicThis example of artificial intelligence takes a large amount of health data and processes it using algorithms designed to find patterns that will match donors and recipients across the country much faster than existing human-run networks can do.

So what does this have to do with Libraries? The capabilities to find matches across vast stores of data and dispersed communities reminds me of Interlibrary Loan. I wonder what would happen if artificial intelligence was applied to the matching process of libraries lending to one another?  What data would we apply algorithms to?  What algorithms already exist or could be further developed?  What ethical concerns are there when applying AI to this context? What is the role of the librarian in this scenario?


Review of Mary Aiken’s Cyber Effect

The Cyber Effect: A Pioneering Cyberpsychologist Explains How Human Behavior Changes OnlineThe Cyber Effect: A Pioneering Cyberpsychologist Explains How Human Behavior Changes Online by Mary Aiken
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

For anyone who is a parent or spends significant time online this is an important and terrifying book. Dr. Aiken is a psychologist who specializes in forensics and public policy regarding the Internet, particularly in the international context with INTERPOL. She is also a consultant for the television show CSI:Cyber and has a position to influence public knowledge of these concepts through that medium as well. With this focus, she understandably comes into contact with the worst corners of the Internet. She begins the book by establishing a foundation of how human behavior changes online such as: increased inhibition and the ability to amplify and spread behaviors more quickly. She goes on to survey a wide swath of Internet activity from gaming, online dating, social media, black markets, predatory behavior, hacking and fringe communities finding each other on the Internet.

As a librarian that stands for a healthy exchange of ideas in society, her advocacy for limitations on the Internet and mentioning China as a model for segmenting the Internet from its citizens is a bit unsettling. However, she does mention the importance of a balance between regulation and the protection of personal privacy. The free exchange of ideas is one that she sees more as a risk and danger rather than a social good. There is a whole aspect of hacker culture and ethics that she misses because of her focus on criminal and malicious hacking activity. Because she is grounded in cybersecurity and forensics and librarianship is grounded in providing access and information to all, there is an understandable tension between our philosophical and professional perspectives.

With that said, there are some truly nasty and disgusting corners of the Web that I wouldn’t want to go and certainly wouldn’t want my children coming into contact with. As a parent it is important that I train my kids to learn how to navigate the Web and be aware of the dangers as well and blocking off access for their benefit. Her portrayal of child predator behavior online is worth the price of the book alone as a parent. Also, her attempts to get countries to cooperate with each other on legal jurisdiction to combat trafficking and sexual exploitation are good to read about. There are also technological measures that can be taken and her algorithm to detect cyber-bullying on social media is a promising aspect of using technology in a positive way.

I recommend this book with the qualification that it be read alongside a book that takes a deeper and philosophical approach like Sherry Turkle’s Alone Together. Turkle’s book fills the gaps in research that Aiken doesn’t cover and does a better job of balancing the positive and negative aspects of technology. Turkle has also done decades of research on the aspects of how behavior changes online. Aiken, pulls work like Turkle’s into the broader world of security and public policy. Parents and professionals will have a more complete view of this topic if this book is not the only one that is read about the impact of the Internet and online behavior.

View all my reviews

Thing 28: Customized Home Pages

I love Netvibes! Its flexibility and appealing integration of widgets, Web pages, and RSS feeds makes it one of the most useful tools I have encountered. Last week, I created an iGoogle page and was not really impressed. Long before that I had played with the idea of creating a Netvibes account but never took that final step.  The comparison of iGoogle and Netvibes finally pushed me over the edge towards Netvibes and I am thrilled.

Personally, it is a great way to easily display my favorite feeds and Web pages. I just finished organizing some of my favorite feeds and widgets into my account. The ability to create multiple tabs is a feature I really enjoy and it is easier to read than my Bloglines account.

Professionally, Michael Stephens’ post about Creating a Librarian’s Info-portal with Netvibes is very helpful in conceptualizing how Netvibes can be set up as a personalized service for your users.

Another user of Netvibes that I would like to emulate is Michael Wesch.  He is a tech-savvy professor of Cultural Anthropology at Kansas State University and his account is called Mediated Cultures: Digital Ethnography.

YouTube Copyright Blowup

Here Comes Another Bubble by an a capella group called the Richter Scales is a recent viral video hit on YouTube.   The use of a photograph from photographer, Lane Hartwell, caused her to request a DCMA takedown of the video because they did not credit her with the use of one of her photographs.  This has set up a fascinating debate regarding Fair Use in blogs of various communities, including content creators and free information use advocates.