Posted by Tristan Ferne, Henry Cooke, David Man on 16 Aug 2021 , last updated 18 Aug 2021
As Artificial Intelligence(AI) is used in more BBC products and everything else online, we think it’s important to deliver AI-powered systems that are responsibly and ethically designed. We also want to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to understand more about how this influential technology works in the world. This is part of a series of posts on this topic.
We have noticed that news stories or press releases about AI are often illustrated with stock photos of shiny gendered robots, glowing blue brains or the Terminator. We don't think that these images actually represent the technologies of AI and ML that are in use and being developed. Indeed, we think these are unhelpful stereotypes; they set unrealistic expectations, hinder wider understanding of the technology and potentially sow fear. Ultimately this affects public understanding and critical discourse around this increasingly influential technology. We are working towards better, less clichéd, more accurate and more representative images and media for AI.
The problems with stock images of AI has been discussed and analysed a number of times already and there are some great articles and papers about it that describe the issues better than we can. The Is Seeing Believing? project asks how we can evolve the visual language of AI. The Real Scandal of AI also identifies issues with stock photos. The AI Myths project, amongst other topics, includes a feature on how shiny robots are often used to represent AI. Going a bit deeper, this article explores how researchers have illustrated AI over the decades, this paper discusses how AI is often portrayed as white “in colour, ethnicity, or both” and this paper investigates the “AI Creation” meme that features a human hand and a machine hand nearly touching. Wider issues with the portrayal and perception of AI have also been frequently studied, as by the Royal Society here. To help us think through the problem we developed a workshop format in which we discuss existing imagery and then think about, sketch and create some better alternatives. The workshop isn’t just about pictures though, it’s thinking through what we talk about when we talk about AI. We have run the workshop with BBC teams several times and earlier in the year we took it to the 2021 Mozilla Festival. We start our workshops by examining and discussing existing images that represent AI and ML.