Prof. Jennifer Edmond features in COALESCE project podcast discussing Engaging the Public on AI

16 May 2024

Professor Jennifer Edmond, ADAPT FI and Associate Professor at the School of Languages, Literatures, and Cultural Studies at Trinity College Dublin, recently appeared on the COALESCE project podcast. The episode, hosted by Achintya Rao, Communications and Engagement Manager for COALESCE, explored Edmond’s innovative efforts to engage the public with artificial intelligence (AI). In the podcast, Edmond, a prominent figure in critical digital humanities, highlighted how scholars use technological tools but also on how diverse groups engage with technology, including big data and AI. 

The SKU-Market Project

One of Edmond’s notable collaborations is with Portland-based US artist Laura Allcorn. Together, they developed the SKU-Market project. SKU, an acronym for Stock Keeping Unit, commonly refers to barcodes in supermarkets. Edmond and Allcorn playfully twisted this term to reflect the skewed perspectives marketers have of individuals based on their data profiles.

The SKU-Market installation invited participants to see themselves through the distorted lens of marketing analytics with Edmon likening it to a fun-house mirror. The back half of the exhibition starkly presented the analytics data, symbolised by a shredded piece of paper in a transparent box. Visitors were then asked to vote with blue tokens on future AI developments, often confronted with unsettling choices that highlighted the potential loss of free will and self-determination.

This experience aimed to provoke reflection and discussion, with many participants laughing at the incongruity between their real selves and their data profiles. This laughter was a crucial moment, as it indicated a recognition of the system’s inadequacies in accurately representing individuals.

“Who Wants to Write an Email?”

Another engaging project spearheaded by Edmond and Allcorn was “Who Wants to Write an Email?” showcased at the Dublin Fringe Festival. This interactive theatre piece, modelled after the game show “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire,” invited participants to consider the implications of AI-generated communication.

The show encouraged the audience to view self-expression as a superpower, despite grammatical errors or accents, emphasising the richness of cultural diversity. Participants were guided through the process by a host and could consult the audience or an AI expert for help. The scenarios often involved composing emails for unusual or humorous situations, highlighting the often bizarre outcomes of AI-generated text.

The development process for this project was meticulous, aiming to evoke critical thinking and reflection on the appropriateness of AI in personal communications. Audience members were regularly asked to consider whether they would want to receive AI-generated messages, especially in sensitive contexts like condolences, underscoring the importance of maintaining genuine human connection.

Through these projects, Edmond and her collaborators strive to foster a deeper understanding of AI’s role in society. By making the public laugh and think critically about technology, they highlight the necessity of demanding better ethical standards from companies developing AI. The goal is to ensure that human communication remains rich, diverse, and authentic, resisting the homogenising pressures of algorithmic predictions.

Listen to the podcast here.