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This edition of GenderIT.org came together at a time of daily breaking news around artificial intelligence (AI) and the serious risks of bias, misalignment, governance challenges, job loss and human extinction.
We are not the first generation to panic about the social implications and governance of new tech. In the late 16th century, Queen Elizabeth I denied a patent to the inventor of a new automated knitting machine for fear it would affect “young maidens who obtain their daily bread by knitting.” In 1859, French poet and critic Charles Baudelaire called photography “art's most mortal enemy.”
But we are undoubtedly facing the fastest-developing technological advancements in human history, and it’s never been particularly useful to position oneself against technological development. Recent calls to pause AI development were rendered symbolic and drowned by a more dominant “race to AGI” frenzy.
Keeping up with the news and filtering out the hype isn’t easy. Amid the AI debates, most women experts are tending towards denying the futuristic, existential threats of AI and calling for addressing existing, documented biases in algorithms, data sets and training models right now. Most of the expertise and resources to unpack AI threats are limited to Western institutions and academia. For us in the global South who are activists and organisers, these are terrific and challenging opportunities to take stock of our movements and rethink how we participate in technology governance that influences our lives.
For a region like the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), which some authors refer to as S/WANA, others as Arabic-speaking countries, tech policy problems are compounded with a litany of daily struggles, most devastating of these being occupation, war, conflict and displacement, which affects, we sometimes forget, two billion people – a quarter of the world’s population. People Like Us are often, sadly, irrelevant to or tokenised in global policy. In this edition of GenderIT.org, we have sought to challenge this, building upon the important work happening in the region right now.
The beautiful illustrations accompanying this issue were drawn by Rawand Issa, who, in the process, reflected on how generative AI impacts her own field of visual art and the design market. We discussed and explored tools like Stable Diffusion together and, while Rawand opted not to use AI in her work, we organically started referring to non-AI as the “old” way. There was something about the cliche and chaos of diffusion, its stereotypical generations, that Rawand felt was less inspiring and more controlling, antithetical to the creative visualisation process and feeling more like an “online visual dump”, reminding her of a movie scene where “robots go to a dead robots dump and try to find better parts for their bodies."
Reading through the articles, Rawand felt a curiosity coupled with anxiety for the future of design, that these tools may be imposed by the market in a way similar to the expensive Adobe suite that was nearly impossible to resist. Her feelings were reflected in the illustrations, which became a series of rooms in a cyberpunk world. Each illustration tells the story of a different anxiety using classical references like The Matrix, the Mortal Kombat video game, and Athena the goddess and protectress, with symbolism inspired from our feminist and queer communities.
Read the full edition at GenderIT.org.