Stronger attention to language, please.

AI Now Institute is an independent research institution looking at the ‘social implications of artificial intelligence,’ something very needed as we continue to have such rapid and significant change in AI, driven by a very limited set of creators.

The Institute itself has four domains which it uses to bucket to the work they do on “the social implications of artificial intelligence”.

  • Rights & Liberties
  • Labor & Automation
  • Bias & Inclusion
  • Safety & Critical Infrastructure

Reading their 2017 Report, I believe it should have more emphasis on language in its recommendations, about which I would like to say more. Linguists, specifically those outside the computational linguistics field, need to be more integrated in the creation of AI as technology and interface.

Language is an underlying consideration in Bias & Inclusion, with this description:

However, training data, algorithms, and other design choices that shape AI systems may reflect and amplify existing cultural prejudices and inequalities.

Which does not have a strong enough inclusion or consideration of the language(s) used to train these systems. While bias work is written about language in AIs, it is more likely to fall on the corpus, that is to say, which words are used in descriptions, and the like. When you feed a corpus into a machine, it brings all its biases with it, and since these data sets are extant, they come with all the societal issues that seem to be more visible now than at earlier times.

Language and power, language and bias, minority languages, all of these have long been topics in the field of linguistics. They are also touched on in behavioral economics, with priming and other ways in which we set into the minds of humans particular considerations. You can also see this in the racial bias work from Harvard that was very prevalent on the web a few years back.

Language is a core human communication tool that entails so much history and meaning that without a greater attention to the social and cultural implications of the language we choose, from how we discuss these topics, to how language is embedded in the interaces of our AI systems we are glossing over something of great meaning with far too little attention.

I don’t think that language belongs only in the realm of bias & inclusion, in the long run. It may create outsiders at this time, but language is such a core consideration, it seems larger than any of these four domains.  Though to note, as well, none of these domains explicitly attend to the interfaces and the ways in which we interact with these systems, so language would belong there as well, as an input and an output, with differing needs and attentions on each side.





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