25 Mar 2024 14:00 - 18:00 (tbc) Online and Room SG1, Alison Richard Building, 7 West Road, Cambridge


This event has been cancelled, apologies for any inconvenience caused.

As Artificial Intelligence (AI) continues to permeate society in different ways, understanding the dynamics of the public discourse surrounding this transformative technology becomes imperative. While AI is now a common topic of discussion in public conversations, the specific language used by the most prominent figures in the tech sector, as well as policymakers, tends to alternate between abstract, vague, and mysterious. Most recently, at the AI Safety Summit at Bletchley Park in the UK Elon Musk referred to AI as a “magic genie”. From ‘neural networks’ to ‘black boxes’, metaphors and utopian (or dystopian) statements pervade the discourse. Yet invoking these kinds of narratives and images only exacerbate confusion and anxiety around emergent technologies amongst the wider public and users. Similarly, policy discourse on AI has equally shifted more and more into the focus of public attention in recent years. With growing concerns around new technological advances, policymakers are increasingly committed to drafting new legal frameworks and guidelines. In the UK, we have seen the development of the Online Safety Bill alongside the wider National AI Strategy, and, in the EU, the Digital Services Act has been continuously enhanced to ensure the creation of safer digital spaces.

In this workshop, we will explore how technologists, government officials, and policymakers frame discussions around AI, with a particular focus on the metaphors they use. This involves examining the delicate balance between fostering innovation and ensuring responsible AI development, thereby shedding light on the challenges policymakers face in navigating the complex landscape of emerging technologies.

How these new prevalent technologies are communicated to the public is crucial to ensure that users are fully informed about not only the functionalities but also the potential impacts of the systems and devices they use daily. Ethical considerations emerge from this as a critical theme both in the tech industry and in policy discourse, and academic research needs to scrutinise how ethical principles are articulated and operationalised by both sectors, often in metaphorical ways, investigating the convergence and divergence of ethical frameworks. From issues of bias in algorithms to concerns about the societal impact of AI, discourse surrounding AI needs to be honest and concretely address these issues.

This workshop will bring together experts and stakeholders from different academic disciplines and non-academic sectors including industry, journalism, and policy. Overall, we seek to critically assess current discourse practices and discuss the possibility of framing conversations about AI differently to enable more direct, responsible and accessible discourse spaces and strategies. Among the questions we will be addressing include

  • How do industry representatives and policymakers talk about AI? What linguistic/rhetorical tools do they use?
  • How do these practices affect understanding and perception of emergent technologies amongst the general public?
  • Can we think of / develop different communication strategies?
  • What is needed to make industry/policy communication clearer and more accessible?

The workshop programme will be available shortly.

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