What does artificial intelligence (AI) look like? A robot with red eyes, a white, plastic line worker, a cybernetic brain, a line of code? A Portrait of AI is a trend analysis of 200 news and media articles containing over 400 visual aids that supplement text-based discourse on varying AI topics. The samples related to AI in the contexts of creativity, business, society & culture, security, innovation, or medicine. Overall, the goal was to frame how a large array of professional communicators used visual media to contribute to publicly accessible dialogue about AI.
"The limited range of ways to convey key concepts in AI and machine learning contributes to the sensationalism of this critical topic and does little to demystify AI, or help audiences understand how it works and its potential impact on our lives" - Lindsay Stuart
The study of AI from a visual communication perspective generally lacked consideration although there is substantial evidence connecting progress and inclusive innovation in STEM to the use of visual campaigns. Major examples include nuclear power, nanotechnology, climate change, astronomy and genetically modified organisms.
In the unique case of AI, there exist no physical form to identify it with. As a result, visualizations of the technology must manifest through whatever the visual communicator decides is best. What often happens is communicators use robot narratives and polarized, imaginative illustrations of utopian and dystopian futures to illustrate AI. These dominate common perceptions of what AI is - superior, intelligent, sentient. This is ultimately misleading and confined by privatized source materials and/or imaginative frameworks.
"False fears may lead to lost opportunities through failure to adopt potentially highly beneficial technology" - The Royal Society
A leading hypothesis of this study was that this trend in using AI narratives - being narratives directly bound to AI as a central plot point - would extend into mass media communications. This assumption was not true. Instead, this study highlighted a new perspective where depictions of commercial and privatized subjects led visual communication. Also, evidence of real-world and utilitarian interaction with AI through products and services made up for most of the visual information in the study while connections to AI-narrative were very uncommon.
This study provides a framework for further research that will require public participation and collaboration with AI experts.