The Human Costs of AI

In 2015 a cohort of well-known scientists and entrepreneurs including Stephen Hawking, Elon Musk, and Steve Wozniak issued a public letter urging technologists developing artificial intelligence systems to “research how to reap its benefits while avoiding potential pitfalls.” To that end, they wrote, “We recommend expanded research aimed at ensuring that increasingly capable AI systems are robust and beneficial: our AI systems must do what we want them to do.”

More than eight thousand people have now signed that letter. While most are academics, the signers also include researchers at Palantir, the secretive surveillance firm that helps ICE round up undocumented immigrants; the leaders of Vicarious, an industrial robotics company that boasts reductions for its clients of more than 50 percent in labor hours—which is to say, work performed by humans; and the founders of Sentient Technologies, who had previously developed the language-recognition technology used by Siri, Apple’s voice assistant, and whose company has since been folded into Cognizant, a corporation that provided some of the underpaid, overly stressed workforce tasked with “moderating” content on Facebook.

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