On New Terms

There are calls across all sectors for a deeper social and cultural examination of the impact of technology, and in particular to our relationship with artificial intelligence (AI). Changes resulting from AI are pervasive but are often hidden, and consequently, we lack an accessible context that would enable us to establish norms of engagement. 

One major challenge in this conversation is the lag between words and thinking. Humans have a tendency toward taxonomy, but technology, like language, is at once rigid and fluid. Conversations around AI have produced vague and seemingly comforting concepts – Universal Basic Income (what is universal?), social good (what is good?), privacy, ethics, authority, intelligence, truth, creativity, citizen, democratization. These terms are not always accountable. AI can also make language appear outdated. This is especially apparent in the “Ethical AI” mode of thinking – as one AI researcher recently remarked to me, “perhaps we are just asking too much of ethics.” 

The expressed goal that continues to be put forth by many individuals and organizations is that AI can help solve some of the greatest challenges humanity faces today – everyone will benefit if we just do it ‘right.’ 

AI in this context is a complicated instrument of both the means and end to a more ethical future. And at the core of this challenge is the question: Who (or what) gets to decide? 

Independent, unencumbered spaces provide us with an opportunity to feel and think through these issues, to invigorate social thought and action as well as the language at the heart of our relationship with AI. 

Mai is an attempt to both elevate and attach technology to its place in the culture, where analysis, prescription, language and technology meet, not always as adversaries and often as partners. 

The shifts ahead and already underway call for radical arguments and new visions. In this, our inaugural issue, we discuss machines as social agents, explore the materiality of The Cloud, and consider the fight over who holds the responsibility for and authority over algorithms; there are visions of how work and education will change in the coming reordering of society; we report on the risk and potential expansion of AI into the mental health landscape and converse with leading actors in the public sphere. 

Mai’s ongoing ambition is to explore AI’s role and balance in society. For help with these questions, we’ll turn to the writers and artists, critics, researchers, and policy mavens who are shaping the evolving discourse on technology, and we will encourage and present the work of a new generation of critical thinkers, who – like Mai herself – are at the beginning of this collective journey.