REPORTS

Report on the 1st B’AI Book Club
Yarden Katz, Artificial Whiteness: Politics and Ideology in Artificial Intelligence (2020)

Hiroki Kato (Research Assistant of the B’AI Global Forum)

Date: Wednesday, May 12, 2021, 17:30-19:00 (JST)
Venue: Online (Zoom)
Language: English (Discussion: Japanese)
Book: Yarden Katz. (2020). Artificial Whiteness: Politics and Ideology in Artificial Intelligence. New York: Columbia University Press.
Reviewer: Yujin Yaguchi (Professor at the Graduate School of Interdisciplinary Information Studies of the University of Tokyo / Executive Manager of the B’AI Global Forum)

On May 12th, 2021, B’AI Book Club held its first meeting online. This is a book review session in which members of B’AI Global Forum and related people participate. Since there are few academic books in Japan which examine the relationship between information technology including AI and gender or minorities, B’AI Book Club aims to provide members of B’AI with opportunities to introduce and discuss foreign books and learn the latest topics in the field. The first book reviewer was Prof. Yujin Yaguchi who introduced Artificial Whiteness: Politics and Ideology in Artificial Intelligence (Columbia University Press, 2020) by Yarden Katz. In this book, the author, who specializes in cognitive sciences, analyzes the connection between AI and whiteness and what this connection brings to society.

 

In general, participants shared the opinion that this book intelligibly explains significant issues regarding AI and whiteness but does not seem to cover much of existing arguments in related research fields, such as whiteness studies or STS (Science, Technology and Society). Although Artificial Whiteness is accessible for non-experts as it uses few theoretical concepts and technical terms, it is difficult to put this work into the larger picture of specialized fields since it insufficiently reviews the related academic works.

 

One of the crucial shortcomings of this book is its excessive bias toward whiteness. Prof. Yaguchi pointed out that Artificial Whiteness only describes American cases and the influence of whiteness on AI and scarcely refers to situations in other countries or relations between AI technology and racial politics. Though the author criticizes the close link between AI technology and whiteness, this book itself, with its obsession with whiteness, ironically affirms AI’s association with Western dominance.

 

Following such evaluation of the book, we discussed in what context this book should be read. Based on the above-mentioned points it is obvious that this book is easy to understand. Some argued that it can be used as a textbook in undergraduate classes or a conversation starter regarding the issues of AI. Others also suggested that the book is useful to introduce computer scientists to the perspectives on AI commonly shared in humanities or social sciences. However, the reviewer, Prof. Yaguchi, indicated that the supposed targets of Artificial Whiteness seem not to be computer scientists but experts and students in humanities and social sciences, given that the blurb of the book is mainly written by famous scholars in those fields. It can be said that how non-experts react to Artificial Whiteness is an important indicator of the role and influence of this book.