The academic and researcher highlighted several disturbing trends in artificial intelligence and the urgent need for collective accountability at Prada’s Shaping a Future conference.

When it comes to artificial intelligence, the line between fact and fiction can be blurred. Will it lead to a dystopian future? Will it steal our jobs? Will our world turn into Blade Runner? “It’s already here; it’s already having an impact on everybody in this room,” said Kate Crawford, a researcher and scholar who specializes in the social implications of AI, during a discussion on ethics in the digital era with Politecnico di Milano School of Management professor Raffaella Caglianoat Prada’s Shaping a Future conference last Friday. Crawford also has an exhibition with Trevor Paglen at the Fondazione Prada in Milan through February 24, 2020.

During the discussion, Crawford brought up a disturbing fact: The biggest AI companies in the US have “90 percent male workforces who have extremely homogeneous backgrounds, by which I mean they studied computer science,” she said. That means that it is primarily men who are charged with remapping the world in which we live. “That is a profound power that we have handed over,” said Crawford.

“This has been the most interesting year in artificial intelligence in the last decade not just [in terms of] technological advances but because it’s the first year that we’ve seen bans,” said Crawford before bringing up another interesting connection: the first cities that have banned facial recognition also happen to be the country’s premier tech hubs. “San Francisco had the first ban on facial recognition, followed by Cambridge, Massachusetts, and followed by Berkeley,” she said. “The first place is the birthplace of Silicon Valley, the second is where MIT is at, and then [Seattle] is where Microsoft and Amazon [are based]. This is the first year that we’re seeing pushback.”Do those cities know something the rest of the country doesn’t? Probably.

Shifting to the conference’s central theme of sustainability, Crawford then posed the question: “Where is our responsibility?”

“I would like to flip the script and say, this is not the issue,” she said. “We can recycle, we can reduce the number of planes that we take per year, we can try to buy green. But let me tell you what’s happening to environmental sustainability right now. One hundred companies are responsible for 71 percent of global emissions.”

As individuals, we shouldn’t just try to take our own personal environmental responsibility, we should also fight the companies who are responsible for the 71 percent of global emissions.

“We should be pushing back, push the companies most responsible for this,” said Crawford.