Why portrayals and perceptions of AI matter

11 December 2018

We must diversify the way artificial intelligence is represented in popular culture to secure public confidence in the potential of the technology, says a review published today by the Leverhulme Centre for the Future of Intelligence and the Royal Society.

The review asks why Western narratives of intelligent machines predominantly show hyper-aggressive figures like the Terminator, whereas in Japanese fiction they are represented more frequently as a friend or tool, like Doraemon the pudgy cat. 

It also highlights the lack of diverse voices and images, as well as the hypersexualisation of AI in cinema, and how this reinforces harmful stereotypes. Ex Machina is one example. The question of whether a female robot is considered to have human-like intelligence is left to the judgment of a man whose main qualification is that he will be sexually attracted to her. 

Overly emphasising AI as humanoid creatures or setting it in utopian or dystopian extremes exaggerates the hopes and fears people have for the technology. This can undermine confidence in the rapidly-evolving field, and misdirect debate, with significant consequences for research, funding and regulation. 

The review is part of the AI Narratives research programme, which involved 150 interdisciplinary experts debating the perceptions of AI in four workshops held in Cambridge and London earlier this year.

Find out more about the Royal Society's work on Data and AI.