May 16, 2024

Lecturer Nina Beguš Reveals How New Science Fiction Could Help Improve AI

From Scientific American

How New Science Fiction Could Help Us Improve AI

By Nick Hilden

For the past decade, a group called the Future of Life Institute has been campaigning for human welfare in public conversations around nuclear weapons, climate change, artificial intelligence and other evolving threats. The nonprofit organization aims to steer technological development away from the dystopian visions that so frequently haunt media. But when it comes to discussions about artificial intelligence, its team has had to face one especially persistent foe: the Terminator.

“When we first started talking about AI risk, every article that came out about our work had a Terminator in it,” says Emilia Javorsky, director of the institute’s Futures program. The Terminator film franchise’s specter of a powerful and antagonistic robot that is driven only by ruthless logic is hard to dispel. Ask people to imagine a powerful artificial intelligence, and they tend to think of the fictional archetype of a machine with a “Machiavellian soul,” Javorsky adds—even though actual AI systems inherently “have no malevolence, no human intent to them whatsoever.”

Recognizing the influence that popular narratives have on our collective perceptions, a growing number of AI and computer science experts now want to harness fiction to help imagine futures in which algorithms don’t destroy the planet. The arts and humanities, they argue, must play a role to ensure AI serves human goals. To that end, Nina Beguš, an AI researcher at the University of California, Berkeley, advocates for a new discipline that she calls the “artificial humanities.” In her upcoming book Artificial Humanities: A Fictional Perspective on Language in AI, she contends that the “responsibility of making these technologies is too big for the technologists to bear it alone.” The artificial humanities, she explains, would fuse science and the arts to leverage fiction and philosophy in the exploration of AI’s benevolent potential...


Nina Beguš is a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Center for Science, Technology, Medicine & Society and a lecturer at the I School. She specializes in artifical humanities. 

Last updated:

May 29, 2024