The societal impact of Artificial Intelligence (AI) dwarfs its technological impact. Already, we see AI everywhere in our daily lives; we see it in our grocery shopping app, our entertainment streaming lists, social media feeds, our dating lives, and the list goes on. The use of AI has become so naturally intertwined with our lives that we often forget to think about the future.
We should ask ourselves the question of how we can unlock AI’s full potential while keeping its risks at a minimum. And to investigate this question, we need to work together. We need to discuss and collaborate, to set the expectations and the conditions of how we want AI to impact our society, and society to impact AI. This collective effort requires the involvement of all stakeholders. And that’s what we aim for with Erasmus AiPact.
What is AiPact?
The Erasmus Initiative ‘Societal Impact of Artificial Intelligence’ (AiPact) is one of the four interdisciplinary strategy initiatives of Erasmus University Rotterdam. AiPact will not only be based in the university. Rather, it will be a structural collaboration between science and society. With society, we mean stakeholders such as institutions, organizations, and enterprises, but most importantly: citizens. Citizen engagement is essential to co-create human- or society-centered AI, striving for human and societal augmentation with AI.
We will study the societal impact of AI in four domains: communication, health, labor, and art. For most of these domains, you can probably think of some hot issues. For example, there is a lot of attention for social media algorithms, filter bubbles and conspiracy theories, deep fakes, opportunities and risks of AI for healthcare, automated decision-making as used by insurance companies and governmental institutions, the rise of the platform economy, and the concern that robots will take over our jobs…. But art, you may wonder… Why art?
We need art to help us imagine
First, art is play. It is appealing, it is engaging, it is challenging, and sometimes mind-blowing. Right now, a lot is happening in the world of AI art. Think of a future Van Gogh made by a machine, a new Nirvana song, AI street art, or interactive dance recitals. Artists are at the forefront of technological development because they have the imagination, the out-of-the-box mentality, the drive, and the urge that is necessary to create the new. And this is no surprise; they have always done so. Remember Jules Verne? H.G. Wells? Star Trek? The work of artists has always been a fundamental source of inspiration for technology developers to build everything from iPads to spaceships. This brings me to the second reason.
Art gives us a purpose, a direction. We need the imagination to think about the future. This is a unique quality shared by artists. To quote the slightly LSD-infused intellectual icon Marshall McLuhan: “We march backward into the future”. Most of us are suffering from what McLuhan called the “horseless carriage syndrome”: the first cars looked like carriages — only without the horse. Often, new technologies start with mimicking the old ones. Artists, artwork, and culture can help us imagine what could happen, what should happen, to march forwards into the future.
Finally, art has potential. In the case of AICON, a collaboration between Art, Science, and Society — a kick-ASScollab, will boost our AiPact initiative and help us achieve societally relevant goals. Artwork makes AI tangible; it gives us something to play with and to talk about. Artwork can spark and facilitate discussion, a dialogue. Dialogue about the future, media and communication, healthcare, and work. Not just for some, but all stakeholders.
AICON as deep launch of AiPact
Art inspired us to design the launch of AiPact, to ignite AICON. This will not be one single event, AICON will be a process, a slow and deep launch. The process is as important as the outcome. And after the ignition, we let go. We gave the floor to the excellent and experienced intersectional program managers, artists, and local stakeholders. In the next weeks, they in turn will give the floor to young citizens in the city of Rotterdam, cocreating works of art. Based on their input, artworks that are iconic to their community, their neighborhood, and their subculture will evolve. We dream that AICON will help to represent a community’s values and virtues and that this artwork will boost a cyclic process in which artists, citizens, and scholars inspire each other and can join in any way they wish.
All parties involved will contribute and benefit. The project will not only result in artwork that we can flaunt, but the process itself, the dialogues, and technical solutions will deliver a great deal of insight. Like this, AICON will inspire and infuse the co-creation of the societal impact of AI. So, citizens, scientists, artists, technicians, students, societal institutions, we challenge you all to see how you can contribute to this process. With your ideas, questions, needs, values, skills, and help… AICON invites you to engage.