We want to make sure that the consequences of AI are positive

“Technology is always created in a context. In order to maximise the possibilities that it brings, we must critically examine its context", says Katherine Harrison, senior lecturer in the Department of Thematic Studies

Katherine Harrison, Tema Genus. Photo credit Charlotte Perhammar

Katherine Harrison

 

The rapid development of artificial intelligence will bring major social changes. This means that AI research covers widely different fields.

Katherine Harrison, senior lecturer in the Department of Thematic Studies – Gender Studies, and Professor Ericka Johnson have been awarded a research grant from WASP-HS to investigate how robots interact with people.
They will study robots that are charged with various tasks. One type is to be used to teach in schools, while another will carry out unbiased employment interviews.

One of the aspects that Katherine Harrison and Ericka Johnson will look at are the underlying conceptions held by the people who create the technology. An example is the way in which robot designers understand human emotions.

“We have previously shown that the people who create robots often view emotions as universal. They believe that it is possible to program a robot to recognise emotions in everyone”, says Katherine Harrison.

But in reality emotions are linked to place and time, she points out. If the designers don’t take this into consideration, the robots they create will exclude certain groups.

The robots that Katherine Harrison plans to investigate learn through the process of machine learning. This means that they require data to learn from.
“So what happens if the tasks that you want the robot to carry out require data that are difficult to obtain? If you use robots in the caring professions, for example, the data you need may be sensitive for reasons of personal integrity. So what do you do?”

Katherine Harrison’s research shines a critical spotlight onto issues of technology, but she is careful to emphasise that it is not anti-technology.
“What we do does not conflict with what the developers do. Our work brings nuances to the development and – we hope – ensures that the technology is compatible with more people.”

She says that AI technology has an enormous potential, but points out that technology is never neutral.
“Technology is always created in a context. In order to maximise the possibilities that it brings, we must critically examine its context. We want to make sure that the consequences of AI are positive for society in its entirety, not just a small group.”

Translated by George Farrants