AI for All?

Challenging the Democratization of Machine Learning


  • Inga Luchs



AI democratization, machine learning, AI industry, big tech, community-led AI, open-source


Research in artificial intelligence (AI) is heavily shaped by big tech today. In the US context, companies such as Google and Microsoft profit from a tremendous position of power due to their control over cloud computing, large data sets and AI talent. In light of this dominance, many media researchers and activists demand open infrastructures and community-led approaches to provide alternative perspectives – however, it is exactly this discourse that companies are appropriating for their expansion strategies. In recent years, big tech has taken up the narrative of democratizing AI by open-sourcing their machine learning (ML) tools, simplifying and automating the application of AI and offering free educational ML resources. The question that remains is how an alternative approach to ML infrastructures – and to the development of ML systems – can still be possible. What are the implications of big tech’s strive for infrastructural expansion under the umbrella of ‘democratization’? And what would a true democratization of ML entail? I will trace these two questions by critically examining, first, the open-source discourse advanced by big tech, as well as, second, the discourse around the AI open-source community Hugging Face that sees AI ethics and democratization at the heart of their endeavour. Lastly, I will show how ML algorithms need to be considered beyond their instrumental notion. It is thus not enough to simply hand over the technology to the community – we need to think about how we can conceptualize a radically different approach to the creation of ML systems.