When Google says it is making Artificial Intelligence software available to the public, it is hard not to be excited. We know that AI will change things in a big way in the next few years, and there is little doubt that Google will be on the cutting edge. But Google’s release of Perspective might not be the kind of AI users expect.
Jigsaw, a unit of Google, is releasing Perspective, a software tool that detects trolling (e.g., harassment) on the internet. According to The Verge, the software has successfully identified ISIS members online. Online publishers plan to use the tool to police the comments section of their articles. Users will use an API to interact with the software service.
Why would an online publisher want to use Perspective to identify trolls? Presumably, the publisher would identify trolls and then ban them or discipline them in some other way. For non-trolls, that might sound like a pretty great service. If only we all agreed on what constitutes a troll.
Perspective is destined to collide with free speech in a big way. Last year, Twitter’s banning of conservative provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos, received mixed reviews; some saw it as a victory for civility, while others saw it as a violation of free speech. It is difficult to imagine a use of Perspective that will not result in the same sort of outcome.
Is Perspective a censorship tool? Google seems to have designed it with good intentions, but it could obviously be used to identify and silence dissenting voices. While companies might use the tool to avoid hostile user comments, governments might find ways to use it to identify citizens with anti-government points of view.
Perspective will, undoubtedly, be a technological breakthrough, but it is unclear whether its service will be a net win for society. Let’s hope that web developers use their new Google-aided powers for good, and not for evil.