The Forgotten Margins of AI Ethics

Submitted on 9 May 2022

The Forgotten Margins of AI Ethics

Abeba Birhane, Elayne Ruane, Thomas Laurent, Matthew S. Brown, Johnathan Flowers, Anthony Ventresque, Christopher L. Dancy

How has recent AI Ethics literature addressed topics such as fairness and justice in the context of continued social and structural power asymmetries? We trace both the historical roots and current landmark work that have been shaping the field and categorize these works under three broad umbrellas: (i) those grounded in Western canonical philosophy, (ii) mathematical and statistical methods, and (iii) those emerging from critical data/algorithm/information studies. We also survey the field and explore emerging trends by examining the rapidly growing body of literature that falls under the broad umbrella of AI Ethics. To that end, we read and annotated peer-reviewed papers published over the past four years in two premier conferences: FAccT and AIES. We organize the literature based on an annotation scheme we developed according to three main dimensions: whether the paper deals with concrete applications, use-cases, and/or people’s lived experience; to what extent it addresses harmed, threatened, or otherwise marginalized groups; and if so, whether it explicitly names such groups. We note that although the goals of the majority of FAccT and AIES papers were often commendable, their consideration of the negative impacts of AI on traditionally marginalized groups remained shallow. Taken together, our conceptual analysis and the data from annotated papers indicate that the field would benefit from an increased focus on ethical analysis grounded in concrete use-cases, people’s experiences, and applications as well as from approaches that are sensitive to structural and historical power asymmetries.

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