Thursday, November 2, 2023

Recommended Reading: AI Is Into the White Savior Complex

One of the more public-facing uses of AI (artificial intelligence) is in creating images. There are several websites that will allow you to enter prompts and receive back AI-generated pictures. These images are created by computers based on patterns detected in an existing trove of images on the internet.

As reported in this NPR article, researcher Arsenii Alenichev decided to test AI image generation on an issue related to global health. While existing images of white, Western doctors treating black, African children abound, Alenichev wanted to see if he could get AI to generate the opposite: images of black, African doctors treating white, Western children. In short, he couldn't.

Although Alenichev's results were not intended to be scientific, they do point to two important findings that are relevant to Christian mission:

1. These results show how prevalent the white savior trope is. There are so many existing images of wealthy, white, Westerners helping poor, black, Africans (and others who are not wealthy, white, Westerners) that imagining the reverse is nigh impossible, even for extremely powerful computers. But if we (humans) can only imagine help and mission flowing in one way (from wealthy, white Westerners to others), it is impossible to create reciprocal mission relationships that are based on mutuality. We are locked into patterns where wealthy, white Westerners are givers and everyone else, especially poor, black Africans, are receivers. There is no mutuality possible in such a scenario. We need to expand our missional imaginations.

2. While artificial intelligence has a wide range of potentially beneficial applications, it cannot overcome the human biases that shape the world as it is. Because artificial intelligence operates by assimilating content from the internet (and elsewhere) and detecting patterns in that content, it is constrained by the pre-existing biases and prejudices that are part of existing content. That content is overwhelmingly made by Westerners and thus reflects the national, social, racial, economic, and other biases common on the West. Computers might save us from some things, but they won't save us from the biases in our hearts. We will need to continue to rely on the Holy Spirit to carry out that work.

1 comment:

  1. The UMC should consider this as it debates the desire for the American connection to become autonomous. It's not a Savior complex. It is based on a racist notion that American UMs know more than African and should be free to go against the global church consensus as they vote to change the human sexuality standards that govern the UMC. .