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A People's Guide to AI

3 blue blobs on a white background, each with an illustration. The first is a cat in a cat car, the second is a cat in front of an assembly line with a bubble above them that says 'data supplied to algorithm', inside another bigger bubble, the third is a cat wearing headphones

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is changing our society.

What do listening to music, taking a flight, and getting stopped by the police all have in common? You might not realize it, but these actions could all involve artificial intelligence (AI) at work.

From cars that drive themselves to computer programs that can talk with humans, AI-based technologies are being deployed across all parts of society. This means that they’re used in everyday spaces (like typing a text message) and in more serious situations (like deciding who is more likely to commit crime).

Because these technologies can process lots of information and make complex tasks more efficient, AI presents huge opportunities for societal change. But who gets to decide what that change looks like and who it will affect? As we learn to deal with new technologies, we also have to learn how to deal with the challenges that surround them. AI, in particular, prompts two big questions for us as a public to consider:

What does fairness look like when computers shape decision-making?

Who is creating the future, and how can we ensure that these creators reflect diverse communities and complex social dynamics?

The consequences of AI affect everyone, but especially traditionally disadvantaged communities like low-income groups and people of color. The exact populations who are not widely included in current conversations about the technology are the ones who face the greatest risk. What does a future of widespread AI mean for cities like Detroit, Michigan, where 40% of the population is without Internet? What does it mean for undocumented people in rural and urban areas who fear deportation? What does it mean for people working in industries where AI has the potential to replace jobs?

We may not be able to answer all these questions, but we can offer a perspective on how to begin this conversation. We are inspired by the legacy of popular education, which insists that in order for people to begin thinking critically, they must first have an understanding of topics in relation to their own lives.

With that in mind, this booklet aims to fill the gaps in information about AI by creating accessible materials that inform communities and allow them to identify what their ideal futures with AI can look like. Although the contents of this booklet focus on demystifying AI, we find it important to state that the benefits of any technology should be felt by all of us. Too often, the challenges presented by new technology spell out yet another tale of racism, sexism, gender inequality, ableism, and lack of consent within digital culture.

The path to a fair future starts with the humans behind the machines, not the machines themselves. Self-reflection and a radical transformation of our relationships to our environment and each other are at the heart of combating structural inequality. But understanding what it takes to create a fair and just society is the first step. In creating this booklet, we start from the belief that equity begins with education.

This booklet can be used in a number of ways. Because each section builds off the last, it can be read sequentially, in the style of a traditional book. For those who wish to learn more about specific topics, we recommend looking at the table of contents and choosing sections to read. For more hands-on learners, we have also included a number of workbook activities that allow the material to be explored in a more active fashion.

We hope that this booklet inspires and informs those who are developing emerging technologies to reflect on how these technologies can impact our societies. We also hope that this booklet inspires and informs black, brown, indigenous, and immigrant communities to reclaim technology as a tool of liberation.

With love and solidarity,

Mimi Onuoha and Mother Cyborg