At the turn of the 20th century, a German horse took Europe by storm. Clever Hans, as he was known, could seemingly perform all sorts of tricks previously limited to humans. He could add and subtract numbers, tell time and read a calendar, even spell out words and sentences—all by stamping out the answer with a hoof. “A” was one tap; “B” was two; 2+3 was five. He was an international sensation—and proof, many believed, that animals could be taught to reason as well as humans.

The problem was Clever Hans wasn’t really doing any of these things. As investigators later discovered, the horse had learned to provide the right answer by observing changes in his questioners’ posture, breathing, and facial expressions. If the questioner stood too far away, Hans would lose his abilities. His intelligence was only an illusion.

This story is used as a cautionary tale for AI researchers when evaluating the capabilities of their algorithms. A system isn’t always as intelligent as it seems. Take care to measure it properly.


But in her new book, Atlas of AI, leading AI scholar Kate Crawford flips this moral on its head. The problem, she writes, was with the way people defined Hans’s achievements: “Hans was already performing remarkable feats of interspecies communication, public performance, and considerable patience, yet these were not recognized as intelligence.”

So begins Crawford’s exploration into the history of artificial intelligence and its impact on our physical world. Each chapter seeks to stretch our understanding of the technology by unveiling how narrowly we’ve viewed and defined it.

Crawford does this by bringing us on a global journey, from the mines where the rare earth elements used in computer manufacturing are extracted to the Amazon fulfillment centers where human bodies have been mechanized in the company’s relentless pursuit of growth and profit. In chapter one, she recounts driving a van from the heart of Silicon Valley to a tiny mining community in Nevada’s Clayton Valley. There she investigates the destructive environmental practices required to obtain the

Read More


By: Karen Hao
Title: Stop talking about AI ethics. It’s time to talk about power.
Sourced From:
Published Date: Fri, 23 Apr 2021 09:00:00 +0000

Did you miss our previous article…