Martha Brockenbrough to discuss complexities of AI with CLSC pick ‘Future Tense’

Martha Brockenbrough

One of the things that Martha Brockenbrough learned while writing Unpresidented: A Biography of Donald Trump was how bots — automated AI accounts mimicking humans — were being used to sow division online. She started thinking about how countries wage war against each other.

“The war of ideas is really powerful because it’s cheap, it doesn’t make anybody die, and it’s super-toxic,” she said. “I started wondering about how artificial intelligence would be used in the context of our democracy that’s under duress.”

That, and more big-picture questions about AI, inspired her to write this week’s Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle selection, Future Tense: How We Made Artificial Intelligence—and How It Will Change Everything, aligning with the theme “The AI Revolution.” 

Future Tense explores the history, current state and possible future of AI in a way that is accessible for people who may not know much about it. Brockenbrough will read from and discuss her book at 3:30 p.m. today in the Hall of Philosophy. 

Brockenbrough has written over 20 young reader books, is the founder of National Grammar Day, and was the editor of and co-chair of faculty in the Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults. She was originally invited to be a Writers’ Center Faculty Prose Writer this summer, but wasn’t available for an entire whole week, so Manager of Literary Arts Stephine Hunt said the team made some adjustments to the season’s schedule.

Hunt said that Future Tense, which is labeled for a younger audience in its description, is a great transitional book for anyone who reads along with the CLSC Young Readers program but may be interested in the “adult” CLSC, given its simple and accessible language that makes the content easy to understand. 

“That was something we were really looking for in a book about AI,” Hunt said, “because it can be very technical and difficult to follow.”

Accessibility was front-of-mind for Brockenbrough when writing Future Tense.

“A lot of what’s been written about artificial intelligence is intended for … either a tech audience or a business audience,” said Brockenbrough. “My audience is people whose lives are going to be radically transformed by this technology.”

From her book, Brockenbrough hopes readers begin to understand how vulnerable humans are against AI and what the technology could mean for human relationships. 

“Before long … we’re going to emotionally bond to those artificial entities as though they’re real,” she said. 

Brockenbrough also touches on the biases that are present in AI and the importance of being aware of them. The tech industry is biased in favor of AI and how it is going to “make our world better,” Brockenbrough said, and while there is potential for it, making the world better isn’t always the case. For example, Brockenbrough also wants readers to consider how algorithms are trained on biased data in the real world, making biased AI.

“Police departments are using facial recognition, and it’s not accurate enough to be used in that context. … People are being arrested on the basis of it,” she said. “Facial recognition just isn’t as good with darker skin as it is with lighter skin. The reason for that is that lighter skinned people have done most of the training (for the AI).”

During her author presentation, Brockenbrough will be discussing what AI means for creativity and artistic work, and why human connection is — and always will be — important. She hopes to remind people that talking with others and sharing ideas is what it means to be human, and that connection is a wonderful thing.

“(AI is) not all good. It’s not all bad; … sometimes there are unintended consequences,” she said. “Let’s keep the focus on AI as something that will make human life better, rather than being a tool for enriching a few.”

Tags : AIartificial intelligenceChautauqua Literary and Scientific CircleCLSCFuture Tense: How We Made Artificial Intelligence—and How It Will Change Everythingliterary artsLiterary Arts CenterMartha BrockenbroughThe AI RevolutionUnpresidented: A Biography of Donald Trump

The author Sabine Obermoller