The perils of AI: How artificial intelligence constructs human identity to their detriment
  • 16 Oct 2023
  • 9 Minutes to read
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The perils of AI: How artificial intelligence constructs human identity to their detriment

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Article Summary

Thank you to Kem-Laurin Lubin, PH.D - C for sharing her knowledge and expertise with us.

“Your identity is your most valuable possession. Protect it.” — Elastigirl , “The Incredibles”

Artificial Intelligence (AI) has unquestionably triggered a profound revolution in our daily lives, reaching into every corner, from transforming online dating and healthcare to redefining how we shop and beyond. In the vast promise of AI to elevate our experiences and streamline intricate processes, we find ourselves at the intersection of great potential and significant challenges. Amid this digital renaissance, AI plays a dual role, shaping, unshaping, interpreting, and sometimes misinterpreting the intricate tapestry of human identity.

In this blog, we set forth on a captivating voyage to unravel how AI, in its relentless progression, inadvertently sculpts and sometimes reshapes our identities to our potential detriment. This expedition guides us through the labyrinthine interplay between technology and our shared humanity, navigating the ever-evolving digital terrain where our sense of self, gently shaped by algorithms and data-driven determinations, might inadvertently wander towards an interpretation influenced by AI, potentially drawing us farther from our true, authentic selves.

But how does AI enable the shaping of what we commonly refer to as the self, our identity?”

This question serves as our gateway into an extraordinary exploration of the profound ways in which AI leaves its unmistakable imprint upon our lives. As we embark on this captivating series, we’ll dive deep into the multifaceted relationship between AI and our sense of self, unearthing the hidden dynamics that often go unnoticed. AI, with its silent but powerful presence, shapes, molds, and occasionally challenges the very essence of who we are.

Throughout this journey, we’ll dissect four pivotal ways in which AI operates as both an artist and a critic of our identities. AI, driven by the wonders of Machine Learning (ML), possesses the remarkable ability to reduce the intricate complexity of human existence to mere data points. Simultaneously, it has the power to unwittingly perpetuate stereotypes and biases that impact how we perceive ourselves and others. Furthermore, it subtly sculpts our self-perception, sometimes leading us down uncharted paths. Yet, perhaps most critically, AI has the potential to encroach upon our privacy and autonomy, casting shadows over our digital lives.

These are the critical waypoints through which we’ll navigate the labyrinth of AI’s influence on our lives, shedding light on the intricate interplay between technology and our ever-evolving identities.

Reducing human complexity to data points

One of the fundamental issues with AI is its tendency to distill the intricacies of human existence down to mere data points. Picture this: you’re scrolling through your social media feed, and suddenly, you’re bombarded with targeted ads and content recommendations that seem to know you better than you know yourself. It’s like AI has neatly packaged your entire identity into a series of checkboxes and algorithmically defined categories.

I recall a recent experience that perfectly illustrates this phenomenon. I had been browsing online for a new book to read. After a few searches and clicks, AI algorithms began tailoring my recommendations. Sure, the suggested books were in line with my previous choices, but they all seemed to fit a narrow mold, a cookie-cutter version of my reading preferences. While these recommendations were based on my past choices, they failed to account for the nuances of my evolving tastes. It overlooked the fact that I might be in the mood for something entirely different or that my interests had expanded beyond those narrow confines.

In essence, this incident emphasized how AI, in its quest for efficiency and personalization, can inadvertently limit the richness of our identity. It often categorizes us based on past actions and preferences, leaving no room for the spontaneity and evolution inherent in human nature. It’s as though we are reduced to a series of checkboxes and data points, missing out on the vibrant tapestry of our unique experiences and aspirations that make us who we are. This AI capacity also begs the question is serendipity dead?

Reinforcing stereotypes and bias

AI systems are like sponges, soaking up the data they are fed, but sometimes, the waters they absorb are tainted with the biases ingrained in our society. It’s a bit like trying to teach a child about the world by using a skewed and incomplete map. This issue hit home when a close friend of mine, a talented software engineer, shared his frustration with AI-driven hiring processes. Despite his impressive skills and qualifications, he often found himself overlooked by automated systems. As a black person, from a specific academic institution, he suspected that these algorithms were inadvertently favoring candidates from specific backgrounds, possibly reinforcing inequalities that have persisted for far too long.

In the realm of law enforcement, this problem takes on even greater significance. I remember a news story that highlighted the disproportionate use of AI in predictive policing in certain neighborhoods. The algorithms, influenced by biased historical data, were more likely to target minority communities, leading to increased scrutiny and tension.

This reinforcement of stereotypes and bias isn’t just a theoretical concern; it has real-world consequences. It can perpetuate discrimination, exacerbate social disparities, and further marginalize communities that are already disadvantaged. It’s a stark reminder that the very technology designed to streamline decision-making can sometimes perpetuate deeply entrenched injustices.

Shaping self-perception

AI doesn’t just shape how others perceive us; it also wields significant influence over our own self-perception. Picture this: you post a photo on social media, and within minutes, AI-driven algorithms have determined its reach and engagement potential. You find yourself checking your notifications obsessively, seeking validation in the form of likes and comments. I’ve witnessed this phenomenon firsthand in the life of a close friend. She’s a talented artist who once used social media to share her creations with the world. Over time, however, the pursuit of likes and follows became an obsession. She found herself carefully curating her online persona to align with what the algorithms seemed to prefer — a specific aesthetic, certain topics, and even the time of day she posted.

As her online persona began to overshadow her authentic self, she started feeling increasingly disconnected from her true identity. The pressure to maintain this curated image grew, and with it came feelings of inadequacy and anxiety. She felt trapped in a cycle of constantly seeking approval from the AI-driven metrics, struggling to reconcile her digital identity with her genuine interests and passions. This experience serves as a poignant reminder that AI’s influence on our self-perception can be insidious. While we strive for popularity and validation in the digital realm, we risk losing touch with our authentic selves, and the emotional toll can be significant. It’s a powerful testament to the delicate balance we must strike between the digital personas we present and the real, unfiltered versions of ourselves.

Threatening privacy and autonomy

AI’s insatiable appetite for data collection raises concerns not only about our privacy but also about our autonomy. Consider this scenario: you browse an online store, and AI algorithms diligently track your every click and hover. Soon enough, you’re bombarded with targeted ads showcasing products the algorithms believe you’re most likely to buy. A personal experience of mine involved searching for a new smartphone online. After a few searches, it felt like the ads for smartphones were following me everywhere, even on unrelated websites. While the convenience of tailored recommendations is apparent, it also felt as if my choices were being subtly nudged, narrowing my exposure to diverse options and perspectives.

This constant data-driven tailoring can, in essence, create a digital echo chamber, where we’re surrounded by content and products that align with the AI’s constructed version of our identity. While it might seem like we’re in control of our choices, we’re often unknowingly influenced by the algorithms, eroding our autonomy and narrowing our worldviews.

The ability of AI to predict our preferences and behaviors can be a double-edged sword. While it offers convenience, it also poses a risk of trapping us in a bubble of our own making. As AI constructs our digital identities based on extensive personal information, we must remain vigilant to ensure that it doesn’t manipulate our choices and decisions in ways that compromise our autonomy and limit our exposure to the rich tapestry of diverse perspectives.

While AI offers numerous benefits, we must be vigilant about its potential to construct human identity to our detriment. It’s crucial to recognise that we are more than the sum of our data points, and the reduction of human complexity to mere statistics can perpetuate bias, shape self-perception, and pose a threat to our privacy and autonomy. To harness the power of AI responsibly, we must prioritise transparency, ethical data collection, and ongoing scrutiny of the algorithms that shape our identities. Only by doing so can we ensure that AI serves as a tool to enhance our lives rather than distort our understanding of who we truly are.

In a world increasingly driven by technology, let us remember that our humanity should never be eclipsed by the very tools designed to assist us. It’s not merely a choice but an obligation to safeguard our identities, our autonomy, and our shared humanity. Together, we can forge a path where AI and human identity coexist harmoniously, allowing us to embrace the best of both worlds.

*About me: Hello, my name is Kem-Laurin, and I am one half of the co-founding team of Human Tech Futures. I am currently pursuing a doctoral degree (University of Waterloo). My research inquires into identity construction through contemporary case studies (judicial) that demonstrate how citizens’ data is collected and utilized. Whether data is illicitly harvested or willingly shared, the resultant algorithmic constructions wield immense power over users whose identities are quantified through information. My research objectives are to (1) develop a critical understanding that will then allow me to (2) produce concrete heuristic principles for use in AI powered design systems (as informed by my professional experience in systems design).

Professionally I practice as a Principal HCD Strategist and Design Thinking Coach. Prior, I led both small and large Design and Research teams at Blackberry Autodesk and also worked at Siemens in both Munich, German, Princeton, USA. In my spare time, I build layered gardens with a tropical vibe while my 135 pound GSD looks on. Today I feel blessed to have traveled to over 25 countries before the world transformed to what it is today; I was able to experience a good breadth of human experiences. Periodically, I give back as an active mentor to my students, and many burgeoning critically thinking HCD Researchers who seek to make the world a better place.

Here is a link to Kem-Laurin's Linkedin profile

Here is the link to the article on Medium

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