As a first-year PhD Student in Computer Science, I joined the Utopia Now team to bring an Artificial Intelligence researcher’s perspective to the table and to take part in the writing workshop with four awesome young writers. My interdisciplinary academic background includes a Bachelor of Science that combined a Major in Computer Science and Minor in Philosophy. My PhD research, which seeks to prevent digital discrimination blends my scientific and philosophical academic interests with my passion for social justice.
Paradoxically, I am rather skeptical of technology and the intentions of the designers. I believe we need diverse voices (identity and discipline wise) in the rooms where we design, create, and deploy technology. We need a variety of perspectives as we build our future with technology, especially more ethical perspectives.
I loved discussing what 2070 would look like with the young writers. I was surprised that the writers shared my own criticisms of technology. I had assumed that, since they grew up in a ubiquitous technological world, they would accept technology as the environmental norm. However, these writers were acutely aware of how addicted they and their classmates are to their phones. It makes them sad to see their peers pivot straight to their phones, and the digital world their devices provide, before and after school. The very devices that are supposed to make us more connected actually distance us from the present moment and from each other.
While some of our discussions about the future of technology, the government, and the environment were bleak, I was inspired by these young writers. In them I see the next generation of leaders and changemakers; in them I see a brighter, more just and sustainable future. I hope that they continue to exercise their critical thinking skills and question why things are the way they are. I hope that they continue to ask: how can we change our community, our environment, and our world for the better? These young writers reminded me why I am doing the research that I am - I love the intellectual challenges technology provides, but I understand the risks it poses to members of underrepresented and oppressed communities. I aim to make technology safer and more trustworthy. I want to make technology a tool, equitably distributed and deployed for the benefit of all societies. I want to make technology a tool for creating a brighter future, not a bleak one. I am excited to see what the future world has in store for my and these writers’ generations.
Mackenzie Jorgensen is a PhD Student in Computer Science funded by the UKRI CDT in Safe and Trusted
Artificial Intelligence at King’s College London. Her research focus is on AI discrimination, using symbolic AI techniques to verify whether systems discriminate. She has completed research projects in the US, UK, and Germany on topics such as big data analytics, multi-agent communication and coordination, and hate speech moderation through machine learning.