Atlas of AI

by Kate Crawford · read January 27, 2023


This feels like a bad time to review this book, because I'm a bit oversaturated on the “let's discuss AI” moment that's happening right now, but I'll do it anyways.

Starting with the good things: I really liked the ‘atlas' framing. An atlas is not a map that purports to objectively convey its territory, but rather a particular viewpoint or interpretation of reality, imbued with its own preoccupations and biases. It felt like a helpful shorthand for the thesis of Crawford's critiques: that technologists have been (willfully?) ignorant of the politics imbedded in their work, and thoughtless about the broader social and historical contexts they operate within. I also found this book to be a useful overview of some of the considerations and history that are frequently overlooked in discussions about AI, and I think I'll dive into some of the authors that Crawford referenced.

Despite having some interesting content, this book bored me more than it should have, and I thought that the writing style was too academic. The other thing that bothers me in general about this specific genre of book is that it's uninspiring. I think I'm just tired of the “here's what people did that was bad” pattern, and what I actually want is a compelling vision for how we could build and use new technologies to make the world better.

Julia Cooke © 2023