Frontline Documentary on AI

Below is another forum post from this semester’s class, from the beginning of this month:

On Tuesday night [November 5] I viewed most of an incredibly well-done documentary on AI (I missed the first half hour, since I only stumbled on the show and hadn’t planned on watching it).

The documentary, titled “In the Age of AI,” aired on Frontline on PBS and runs for just under two hours. Though it’s a big time commitment to view the entire documentary, it is a comprehensive look at AI and has great relevance to this class. Here is the official Frontline description of the program:

FRONTLINE investigates the promise and perils of artificial intelligence, from fears about work and privacy to rivalry between the U.S. and China. The documentary traces a new industrial revolution that will reshape and disrupt our lives, our jobs and our world, and allow the emergence of the surveillance society. https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/frontline/film/in-the-age-of-ai/

https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/frontline/film/in-the-age-of-ai/

The documentary covers all aspects of AI, from the prospect of self-driving tractor trailers, to robots on factory floors assembling cars, to the sophistication of facial recognition. Most fascinating to me was the discussion of ethics in AI (including a look at how Google changed its initial “do no harm” business model in the wake of the dot com crash of 2000), and also the discussion of what is essentially shaping up to be a new Cold War, but this time a technology Cold War, between China and the United States. Linked in to this ethical discussion was the profound effect that AI has on human beings, from United Auto Workers members (UAW) who have lost their jobs to robots to the persecution of the Chinese Muslim minority, the Uyghur, by the Chinese government via sophisticated AI surveillance. By the end of the documentary, my husband and I were chilled by the impact that AI already has on society, and terrified by how the future of AI could profoundly change our lives, and not necessarily for the better.

As I was watching the documentary, I kept thinking to myself “how does all of this relate to what I do as a librarian?” I knew that I wanted to share this program with the class, but I also wanted to find a way to link it to our chosen career. Ultimately, I feel that as librarians we are the gatekeepers to knowledge, and the professionals that many people seek out to help them navigate the ever-changing world of technology. In that role, we have the ability to educate our patrons about the full spectrum of AI: its positives and also its negatives. If we are well-educated about the potential perils of privacy concerns like facial recognition that can be misused as surveillance, then we can help our patrons understand the implications of using advanced technology. And, as a children’s librarian, I have an additional responsibility to teach the kids I work with about AI in a way that makes them aware of dangers while not frightening them away from technology; these kids have never lived without technology, and they are also the future of technological advances.

I can’t recommend this documentary highly enough – it is well worth the time investment to watch it, and my mind is still processing what I’ve learned from it to the extent that I plan on watching the documentary again this weekend.

The documentary can be accessed here: https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/frontline/film/in-the-age-of-ai/

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