How to Keep the AI Community Growing

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How to Keep the AI Community Growing

Dear friends,

Many things in life have a positive side and a negative side. For instance, a new AI system might help democratize access, and at the same time it might be more accessible to people who have internet access than those who don’t. Thus, it could be either praised for helping people or criticized for not helping enough. These days, a determined critic or politician can point to almost anything, good or bad, and find cause to celebrate or denigrate it depending on their agenda.

We know from studies of social media that posts that arouse anger are more likely to reach a large audience than those that encourage feelings of contentment. This means that whenever an event occurs — even a good one — naysayers have a larger megaphone than supporters. (This isn’t altogether new. Juicy gossip has always traveled faster than mundane truth.) For example, fear mongering about artificial general intelligence seems to be a persistent meme even though AI’s benefits vastly outweigh its harms.

What can we do about this? I’d like to see us do more to support each other. If an uncivil critic has a larger megaphone than we do, we can respond together with a public show of support. When I tweet about some topics — support for Ukraine against Russian aggression, for instance —I find that an occasional hostile response can make me pull back. But I try to ignore the hostility and continue to support the causes that I believe in.

The psychologist John Gottman says that successful relationships have a ratio of five positive interactions to one negative interaction. I don't know whether a ratio like this applies to communities, but I would love to hear members of the AI community cheering for each other most of the time — even if, a smaller fraction of the time, we also need to discuss and fix problems that deserve sharp criticism.

Over the past couple of years, I’ve seen members of the AI community express a lot of support for one another, but I’ve also noticed a growing tendency to criticize, especially on Twitter. To be clear, AI has many problems including bias, fairness, and harmful use cases, and we need to discuss and fix them. But if the AI community is to keep growing — which I hope we will — we need to invite others into an environment of mutual support and respect.

I had dinner with a few AI friends last weekend. Rod Brooks, Kai-Fu Lee, Tom Mitchell, and I reminisced about the early days of AI, when everyone knew each other and we often supported each other in the ambitious research directions that many were pursuing. The community continued to welcome newcomers for decades, which allowed us to grow and make a lot of progress.

In that spirit, I hope we’ll put more energy into strengthening our community and focus our critical impulses on the most pressing issues. Let’s give each other the love, respect, and support that will keep the field growing for a long time to come.

Keep learning!

Andrew

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