The evolution of AI research and the study of its social implications

By Morgan R. Frank

This blog post summarizes the key findings in our new article The evolution of citation graphs in artificial intelligence research, published in Nature Machine Intelligence. The research team includes myself, Dashun Wang, Manuel Cebrian, and Iyad Rahwan. We analyze the last 60 years of publications within the booming research area of artificial intelligence (AI). Scientific impact within the AI research community is becoming less diverse with industry research institutions overtaking academic ones as the central hubs for AI research. This observation is concerning because social science research is less likely to make reference to industry-authored AI research. This dynamic may allow the social and societal implications of AI research to go unnoticed prior to deployment.

AI’s history as a narrative tool for social implications

Why consider the social implications of artificial intelligence (AI)? Across time and culture, humanity has maintained a mythical concept of artificial human intelligence — although not always in the form of algorithms and machines. Rather, humanity’s quest for AI began with “an ancient wish to forge the gods” that has persisted from mythology, folklore, and science fiction to today’s technology. Yet, both mythological “AI” and technological AI highlight important social questions for society.

Allowing the generalized notion of artificial human intelligence, several stories from folklore and mythology use AI to highlight important social and cultural issues. As an example, Hephaestus — the Greek god of metalworking and stone masonry — created mythical golden robots, who could think for themselves but acted as servants on Mount Olympus. Jewish folklore maintains several stories of humanoid golems made from clay. The most famous is the Golem of Prague, who went into a destructive rage after breaking the cultural taboo of working on the Sabbath. In Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, the monster is shunned by its creator, thus damaging the monster’s social nature. Combined with the monster’s later insistence on his right to a partner, this story acts as a commentary on the ethics of AI and humanity’s paternal obligation to the intelligence it creates.

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