How computers misunderstand the world

“There are lots of things on the internet that are popular but not good,” says Meredith Broussard, “like racism or ramen burgers.” Yet we are increasingly being offered the popular and not the good, and that’s just one negative effect of believing that the technological solution is always better one.

Broussard has been a data journalist and software developer, and she is now the author of Artificial Unintelligence: How Computers Misunderstand the World, out now from MIT Press. Broussard has been programming since she was 11, but she has come to realize that the long-held utopian promises haven’t delivered. Now, she says, it’s time to be more critical, think about the limits of computers, and stop excluding equations from the system.

The Verge spoke to Broussard about technological fallacies, why paper can be better, and why we don’t need to reinvent the wheel.

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.

One of the main arguments of your book is that we suffer from “technochauvinism,” or the belief that the technological solution is always the right one. How istechnochauvinism different from other terms we have, like technological utopianism?

It’s very much related. In the book, I write about how our mainstream beliefs about the role of technology in society are very much influenced by the utopian visions of a very small and homogenous group of people, like [the late MIT cognitive scientist] Marvin Minsky.

Still, not every decision that we make around technology is specifically utopian, I don’t think that C-suite executives are really thinking about how they want to create a better and separate utopian world where they make decisions about using technology.

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