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Artistole’s binary philosophies created today’s AI bias

3 6 22
18.01.2019

There is no doubt that AIs are biased. But many declare AI’s inequalities exist because we humans are flawed, rather than the machines. “Are machines doomed to inherit human biases?” the headlines read. “Human bias is a huge problem for AI. Here’s how we’re going to fix it.” But these narratives perpetuate a dangerous algorithm-first fallacy that needs to be nixed.

Yes, humans are subjectively biased. Yes, despite conscious and unconscious efforts not to, we discriminate, stereotype, and make all sorts of value judgements about people, products, and politics. But our biases aren’t being maliciously measured or modeled by the machines. No, machine biases are due to the very logic of data collection: the binary system.

The binary system is the string of 0s and 1s that serves as the foundation of all computer systems. This mathematical method does two things. Firstly, it enables large numbers to be reduced and calculated efficiently. Secondly, it enables the conversion of the alphabet and punctuation into ASCII (American Standard Code for Information Interchange).

Don’t be fooled, though: These 0s and 1s don’t mean that the machine understands the world and languages like we do.”Most of us, most of the time are following instructions delivered to us by computers rather than the other way around,” says technology historian George Dyson. In order to be able to communicate with computers, we’re being fitted and biased toward their logic, not them fitting into ours.

Binary reduces everything to meaningless 0s and 1s, when life and intelligence operates XY in tandem. It makes it more convenient, efficient, and cost-effective for machines to read and process quantitative data, but it does this at the expense of the nuances, richness, context, dimensions, and dynamics in our languages, cultures, values, and experiences.

But we shouldn’t bemoan Silicon Valley developers for the biased binary system—we should blame Aristotle.

Aristotle’s binary bias

When you think of Aristotle, you probably think of the Ancient Greek philosopher as one of the founding fathers of democracy, not the progenitor of centuries of flawed machine logic and scientific methods. But his theory of “dualism”—whereby something is one or other, true or false, logical or illogical—is what landed us in this sticky situation in the first place.

Around 350 BC, Aristotle wanted to reduce and structure the complexity of the world. To do this, he borrowed from Pythagoras’s Table of Opposites, in which two items are compared:

  • finite, infinite
  • odd, even
  • one, many
  • right, left
  • rest, motion
  • straight, crooked

But instead of applying this dualism to........

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