Policy Briefs Books Journals

Social Media, Technology and Peacebuilding Policy Brief  No.26 - November, 2018 • By Beth Kanter and Allison Fine

Civil Society in the Age of Automation: Understanding the Benefits and Risks of Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, and Bots

The next wave of disruptive technology has arrived; it is the Age of Automation. The defining technologies for this new era include robots, chatbots, artificial intelligence, machine learning, conversational interfaces, cyborgs, and other smart devices. These technologies are increasingly becoming the interface between organisations and humans. The risks and benefits for civil society organisations boils down to automation versus augmentation. Automation is where robots and algorithms take over and destroy humanity. Augmentation is more optimistic and suggests that artificial intelligence (A.I.) will help civil society organisations amplify their work to better serve stakeholders and solve significant social change problems.

Civil society organisations should not view these technologies as a smackdown between flesh and code, but as a partnership to better address development needs. Civil society can play a key role in addressing the risks posed by A.I., especially for marginalized people and communities who will feel the brunt of any negative impact. However, to reap the benefits for civil society, design and implementation must have a human-centered orientation, scale beyond the innovation or data units to entire enterprise and maintain the highest ethical standards to avoid devastating unintended consequences.1

1 Fine, Allison; Kanter, Beth. Leveraging the Power of Bots for Civil Society. (2018) Stanford Social Innovation Review Blog, April.

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