Turn your mind back to 2016 and you may remember Quick sign! – an AI experiment from Google that guessed what users were learning. It was actually AI Pictionary, with Google later publishing the millions of sketches it collected as an open-source dataset.
But there was one doodle that Google & # 39; s AI never recognized and that never appeared in its data: the simple penis.
It sounds childish, but it's kind of a big omission. The penis is perhaps the most significant and durable doodle of all time. It is a sigil that has been scribbled on surfaces for thousands of years – from everywhere Roman walls to medieval manuscripts – and in different ways means happiness, masculinity, or simply: "I am a man and I was here."
To rectify Google's mistake, the Mozilla Foundation has commissioned the Dutch design studio Moniker to build an AI penis scrabble detector. It's kind of crazy, but Moniker and Mozilla say they also make a serious point: at a time when American tech giants have so much control over what we see online, should we be worried about the moral standards they should set?
You can test the pen detector here. If you scribble a penis, it says, "We assume this was a mistake," and we erase it, users warn, "Don't take individual expression too far away!" Draw enough of it and it will be a crazy tirade, scribbling itself in a madness.
Roel Wouters from Moniker tells The edge that the inability of Google's AI to recognize a penis scribble is certainly trivial in the big picture, but it is still a powerful symbol of the power of technology giants. He gives the example of Facebook and Instagram & # 39; s ban on the nipple as a more serious example of American prudishness imposed on the world.
"The point is that we think our moral compasses should not be in the hands of the big tech," says Wouters. "We doubt the fact that we gave away responsibility for our social infrastructure in exchange for" free "use without even realizing it. You don't find it strange that Instagram & # 39; s & # 39; community guidelines & # 39; for sharing of images is imposed on all world citizens and all cultures? "
Wouters says he personally loves Google & # 39; s Quick, Draw! project, and even used the company's TensorFlow AI software to build its alternative. But he points out that as businesses use more artificial intelligence to moderate online platforms, the potential for wrong censorship – even self-censorship – increases. Knowing that an AI could recognize our profane thoughts or feelings, we might never be able to express them in the first place.
The project is not really about "freedom of expression," says Wouters, but it is a reminder "about the undesirable forces of great technology and their paternalistic governmental tendencies." He adds: "For us, the slurping of a penis is a light symbol of a rebellious act."
That has been true for thousands of years – whether company AI recognizes it or not.