Social inequalities and asymmetrical power relationships
Al has reproduced social inequalities or asymmetrical power relationships between mega platforms and small corporations as well as new media-savvy users and general users who do not possess enough information and knowledge. Therefore, as Cath (2018, 6) points out, it is critical to highlight “the nuances of the debate on Al, ethics, technology and the law and pave the
New media ethics in the age of Al 141 road for a broader, more inclusive, Al governance agenda.” The central role of Al and digital platforms “in the organization of public life require new forms of governance and the allocation of responsibility” (Helberger et al., 2018,11).
Governments as public policy makers can proactively steer the Al society “to achieve a balance between market, state, and civil society actors. States, after all, have always been entrepreneurial, taking the lead in creating common infrastructures that ideally procure democratic values while generating economic values,” although it fails in many cases (Mazzucato, 2013; Jacobs and Mazzucato, 2016; van Dijck et al., 2018, 161-162). An Al world “in which large corporations have both an overwhelming market presence and the leverage to influence political actors give rise to highly unbalanced positions”; therefore,
for democracies to work in the age of [Al] and digital platforms, they need the concerted effort of all actors—market, state, and civil society— to build a sustainable and trustworthy global Al ecosystem, a system that comes equipped with distributed responsibilities as well as with checks and balances.
(van Dijck et al., 2018, 162)
As Klinenberg and Benzecry (2005, 9) already pointed out, “New communication technologies create both threats and opportunities for major media corporations.” In particular, major cultural firms exploit digital technologies, including Al to expand their presence into different areas or to utilize Al for the production of popular culture. Therefore, “recent regulatory changes driven by the proliferation of new technologies,” including Al in the cultural field, “have facilitated the growth of large conglomerates” (10). A handful of “automated, algorithmic digital platforms” have become major players, while small- and mid-sized venture capitals and cultural creators must work for these few mega giants (Elkins, 2019, 377). Several cultural platforms like Netflix and Spotify claim that they focus on engagement with diversity, routinely invoking their sophisticated computational systems as paths toward greater human understanding (Elkins, 2019). Broadly, then, they promote a positive, humanistic vision of algorithmic culture or the “enfolding of human thought, conduct, organization and expression into the logic of big data and large-scale computation” (Striphas, 2015, 396). Since Al is a computer system that can sense its environment, think, learn, and take action in response to what it is sensing and its objectives (PricewaterhouseCoopers, 2019, 2), the recommendation systems by platforms like Netflix are the most tangible function of Al, which may bring huge benefits for both producers and consumers in the cultural industries. However, the reality is not promising.
Since only a very limited number of nations and corporations are able to accommodate Al and algorithms, which rely on big data, the gap between the Global North and the Global South has intensified in the Al era. In fact, only a few digital platforms that garner data from global users control the global cultural markets. In this light, Facebook, Google, Netflix, and Spotify will continue to increase their market shares and dominance in the global scene. Al and digital platforms have become two primary technologies that express key aspects of contemporary capitalism and imperialism, which emphasize not only the problematic position of the users in light of new forms of Al and data regimes of power (Bueno, 2020), but also the international division of power between a few advanced countries and the remaining countries in the realms of Al and platforms (see Jin, 2015). As these two technologies are converging to make profits, the situations surrounding popular culture and media have continued to worsen. Of course, big data is the starting point. The problematic is data mining, which is defined as “the use of machine learning techniques to discover previously unknown properties in large data sets,” and data mining aims “to extract information from a data set and transform it into an understandable structure for further use” (Talia et al., 2015, 1). Governments and mega digital platforms gather, combine, classify, and analyze information to tell stories beyond what the data originally describe (Christians, 2019), and during the process, these organizations use data mining techniques to support their goals, which distort truth.
Due to this urgent issue, the participants of the Forum on Artificial Intelligence in Africa held in Benguerir (Kingdom of Morocco) on December 12 and 13,2018, to reflect and debate on the different dimensions of Al within the African context, made a very important statement. Considering the rapid evolution of Al science and technology, and Africa’s slow progress in that regard, and considering the potential of Al and the opportunities it offers for sustainable and inclusive development on the continent, they encourage the African Union; regional economic communities; governments, academic institutions; professional associations, the private sector; civil society; and international organizations, especially UNESCO, to promote a rights-based, open, accessible Al through a multi-stakeholders approach as an instrument for the empowerment of African people and the positive transformation of African societies (Outcome Statement of the Forum on Artificial Intelligence in Africa, 2018).
On this subject, I am not talking about techno-utopianism or techno-dystopianism. As is well known, back in the 1990s, the idea that technology was a force for good enjoyed broad mainstream appeal. Now, the same narrative has not disappeared. But overall, the mood of the conversation has become more skeptical. There are more talks about the dark side of Al, including privacy and fake news. Thus, people have seen more resistance to the basic utopian line (Don’t Be Evil: Fred Turner on Utopias, Frontiers, and Brogrammers, 2017). Due to these concerns, several digital platforms, including Facebook, plan to resolve these negatives by adding Al components; however, the reality is not that simple. As Forbes (2017) reports, “Machine learning is a powerful, useful set of techniques and has allowed us to solve problems we couldn’t have handled before.” It continues to claim that
New media ethics in the age of Al 143 the supply chain optimization system, for example, will benefit from adding some machine learning systems on top of the classical operations research foundation we have now. But, all that said, machine learning is nowhere near as general, powerful, or impactful as people seem to believe!
How Al will influence the future of the cultural industries is a very interesting question because many people are witnessing some reliable information to contemplate about Al’s future trajectory in conjunction with digital platforms or with Al itself as platform.
As one of the major ICT nations from the Global South, the Korean society has continuously suffered from asymmetrical developments and distributions since major actors did not advance social justice and equality during the developmental era, starting in the 1970s. The recent Korean administrations have attempted to advance new initiatives, particularly in the fields of platform and culture. Given its supreme positions, if not dominant ones, in the global platform and cultural markets, as can be seen with several cutting-edge technology areas like digital games and smartphone technologies, as well as the Korean Wave phenomenon, it is logical for the government to push these areas with the help of Al and big data. As in several neighboring countries like China and Japan, Korea regards Al as a primary driver of the next-generation economy, closely tied to its global competitiveness. As such, the Korean government has taken measures to ensure that the country does not fall behind the rest of the world, clearly articulated in its goal of becoming one of major Al nations in the 2020s (Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada, 2019). In a short period of time beginning in the late 2010s, Korea achieved commendable progresses with Al and big data in the realms of digital platform and culture.
In the Korean context, the government has also used Al and big data to expand its political goals, which means that economic growth is the major reason for the initiatives, rather than social equality. Al and big data have had
a deeper impact on those cultural industries where the core product—a movie, news story, or musical track—can be downloaded and enjoyed by private.. . . And as it occurred, dominant business models fell in a process of creative destruction, destructive because of its harsh impact on existing firms, but creative because of the economic vitality it unleashed.
(Di Maggio, 2014)
This implies that the cultural industries supported by Al have not secured any reliable policy initiatives and ethical codes in which cultural creators and users can be protected, and Korean society continues to experience the conglomeration of cultural corporations, which deters diversity and creativity. The intensified commercialization of Al-supported ICT and cultural products proves that small- and mid-sized venture capitals in the realm of culture have been absorbed by mega media giants, which is still intensifying. As Hagerty and Rubinov (2019) point out, Al-driven digital technologies have a pattern of entrenching social divides and exacerbating social inequality, particularly among historically marginalized groups and nations. As this pattern exists on a global scale, low- and middle-income nations may be more vulnerable to the negative social impacts of AL An amplification of social inequality greatly increases social instability in the Global South, putting entire societies at risk, with potentially far-reaching geopolitical consequences. The Al divide between the Global North and the Global South has consequently intensified existing economic and cultural gaps between these two regions in the 2020s.