February 17, 2023

Is The Future Of Artificial Intelligence White?

It appears everywhere you go; artificial intelligence (AI) seems to be the only two words on everyone’s lips. From the rise in AI-powered chatbots to the new era of computer-generated art, it’s hard to turn a blind eye to – what could be – the future of technology.  

However, according to a new report by Slate, AI still has a long way to go before it is considered an adequate extension of human intelligence. 

AI’s Inability To Create Realistic Hands 

Slate journalist, Heather Tal Murphy, investigated AI’s inability to create hands and found something even more disturbing. 

Long-standing rumors that AI will replace designers – ultimately making them obsolete – came to a halt after social media discovered the program’s inability to create realistic hands. 

Photos created by AI have become easily noticeable due to the excess number of hands and teeth in every shot. Many tech enthusiasts have explained that AI datasets often don’t pick up on hands because they are smaller in source images or are rarely on display. This discovery has opened up the floor to an even broader conversation.  

In Slate’s report, Murphy found that the long-standing issue around the program’s lack of ability to create realistic hands highlights one major thing, technology needs refining. 

Murphy entered multiple prompts like, ‘AI-generated images showing a couple that has been together for 50 years holding hands after a fight’ and discovered the problem was more prevalent than she thought. Two things all the images had in common were that; all the hands were misdesigned, and every single couple was white.   

Why doesn’t AI recognize Black couples? 

“What stood out to me, even more than the witchy, misshapen fingers, was that the couple were all white,” Murphy said in the report. 

“Every single one of them. Regardless of whether I was using Shutterstock, NightCafe, Images.AI, Stable Diffusion, Playground, or DALL-E 2, and no matter the stylistic choices I made within the tools, every one of the 25 or so couples was white.” Murphy highlighted that ethnic couples were only curated when the word ‘poor’ was entered.

This finding does not come as much surprise due to the well-known fact that AI systems tend to reflect the human biases of their designers. 

As the future of technology gears toward an AI-powered world, how worried should we be about Black people slowly being erased from computer-powered imagery?   

“For years, we’ve been hearing about biases backed into artificial intelligence tools,” added Murphy.

“You could tell yourself that AI tools’ struggle to conjure up a long-partnered couple that is not white – unless they were explicitly poor – is not surprising enough to write about. Initially, I did.” 

Kumba Kpakima

Kumba Kpakima is a reporter at POCIT. A documentary about the knife crime epidemic in the UK got her a nomination for the UK's #30toWatch Young Journalists of the Year.