Will libraries play a critical role in the AI revolution?

In Libraries in the Age of Artificial Intelligence, Computers in Libraries, January/February 2018, Ben Johnson calls on public libraries to help provide open source AI tools. Two snips:

While libraries will certainly be changed by the AI revolution—and in ways we can’t imagine—it seems unlikely that they will cease to exist altogether. Indeed, public libraries and public universities may yet have a critical role to play in the AI revolution. Today’s mainstream AIs are dominated by proprietary software. Apple, Microsoft, Google, Facebook, and other major tech players all have their own AIs. These companies have invested heavily in research and development, and they have guarded their intellectual property closely. The algorithms that give rise to machine learning are mostly kept secret, and the code that results from machine learning is often so complex that even the human developers don’t understand exactly how their code works. So even if you wanted to know what AI was thinking, you would be out of luck. But if AI is a black box for which we have no key, public institutions can play in important role in providing open source AI solutions that allow for more transparency and more control.

From intellectual freedom to information literacy and more, libraries provide a set of principles that have helped guide intellectual growth for the past century. In the age of AI, those principles are more relevant than ever. But libraries are not the center of the information world anymore, and the new players don’t always share our values. As machine learning proliferates, what steps can we take to ensure that the values of librarianship are incorporated into AI systems? Advocacy should be directed not at maintaining traditional librarianship, but in influencing the development of the emerging information systems that may come to replace us.

— Joe

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