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AI Safety Is a Narrative Problem

Forthcoming. Now Available: Just Accepted Version.
Published onApr 15, 2024
AI Safety Is a Narrative Problem


This op-ed explores power and narrative dynamics around AI. Drawing on pop-culture references, the professional experiences of the author and examples from 2023’s “Great AI Safety Hype Roadshow”, this piece draws on the literary criticism technique of practical criticism to consider how speeches and announcements from both Silicon Valley executives and research scientists to interrogate the media-friendly nature of p(doom) discourse and its likely consequences. The complexities of AI and its numerous social impacts can be difficult for even the most expert analyst to unpack. In spite of this, the potential of “existential threats” has successfully cut through to become a mainstay of mainstream media coverage over the last year. This piece will make the case that this is an effective narrative conceit that has achieved a number of ends that traditional science communication tends to find difficult, if not impossible, to achieve. Firstly, it is easy to understand. Simplification of this nature – that removes jargon and complexity and focuses on a single outcome - is much easier to fit on a TV rolling news ticker or on the cover of a tabloid newspaper than more well-balanced, representative opinions. Secondly, it inherits prior assumptions from well-known dramatic forms. P(doom) plays to stories familiar from Greek tragedy through to Marvel movies, in which lone male heroes battle ineluctable forces. Thirdly, it is imbued with urgency and so becomes difficult to ignore.

Keywords: technology, power, AI, narrative, media literacy

04/15/2024: To preview this content, click below for the Just Accepted version of the article. This peer-reviewed version has been accepted for its content and is currently being copyedited to conform with HDSR’s style and formatting requirements.

©2024 Rachel Coldicutt. This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY 4.0) International license, except where otherwise indicated with respect to particular material included in the article.

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