To understand technology, we must first understand people
A new book on the relationship between automation technologies and people suggests the debate about such technologies must be broadened and include a more social science perspective. That is, if we are to seriously understand its possibilities and consequences.
“When automation technologies, such as AI or systems for automated decision-making, try to read and adapt to us – live with us and become part of our lives and our bodies – then we can no longer talk about people as users. It's not like using a toaster,” says one of the book’s co-editors, Professor Martin Berg, adding:
“Instead, these technologies are part of our lives, they learn from what we do and are fed with information from us. That information has a human origin, and we have to understand and think about this aspect of these systems and how they become part of our culture without perhaps understanding that this is the case.”
There is a risk that it will be terribly boring to have this type of technology around us. This is something we must discuss and understand, and in order to do so, it is absolutely crucial that we understand people in order to understand technology.
To understand automation technologies, we must understand people, says Berg. In the book Everyday Automation: Experiencing and Anticipating Emerging Technologies, he and his colleagues want to focus on the fact that people, with their everyday expectations and hopes, create the conditions for technologies; people are characterised by their environment, culture, and social context, such as class, sexuality, culture and socio-economic status.
“We all know that it matters what kind of environment one grows up in, or what relationships you have – it's the same for machines. We need to think about how to raise them and critically reason about the conditions under which they may learn about the world.”
We must understand how automation technologies and AI are extensions of ourselves. There are people who raise and maintain this type of technologies, so they are quite clearly tied to us, says Berg.
The book is partly a result of the University's interdisciplinary research programme Data Society, which focuses on the complex issues and challenges that digitalisation at different levels entails. To address these challenges, Berg believes that research must be more interdisciplinary:
“We need to conduct research that seriously allows social sciences, economics, design, humanities and technology to interact and meet. Our time and future require research that goes beyond traditional faculty and discipline divisions, and in order to do so, Malmö University is well placed to develop in a positive direction.”
He emphasises that there are fantastic opportunities with automation technologies. They can be very useful, help us make better decisions, or give us support in everyday life. But that does not mean we can just let go of technology.
“The human aspect is needed to be able to better develop, and also regulate, new technologies. What happens, for example, if an automated decision-making system makes a bad decision? How do we make these technologies a part of our world where values other than the purely practical or legally or morally philosophically correct play a role?
“There is a risk that it will be terribly boring to have this type of technology around us. This is something we must discuss and understand, and in order to do so, it is absolutely crucial that we understand people in order to understand technology.”
Text: Joanna Kindeberg & Adrian Grist