Illustration by Sarah Nicholls

An AI Pattern Language

Madeleine Clare Elish, Tim Hwang

Published 09.29.16
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How are practitioners grappling with the social impacts of AI systems?

In An AI Pattern Language, we present a taxonomy of social challenges that emerged from interviews with a range of practitioners working in the intelligent systems and AI industry. In the book, we describe these challenges and articulate an array of patterns that practitioners have developed in response.

"Distilling the range of perspectives into patterns begins the work, we hope, of developing a common language and mutual intelligibility from which to address the social implications of deploying AI and intelligent systems."
–M.C. Elish and Tim Hwang

The inspirational frame (and title) for this project has been the unique collection of architectural theory by Christopher Alexander’s A Pattern Language (1977). For Alexander, the central problem is the built environment. While our goal here is not as grand as the city planner, we took inspiration from the values of equity and mutual responsibility, as well as the accessible form, found in A Pattern Language. Like Alexander’s patterns, our document attempts to develop a common language of problems and potential solutions that appear in different contexts and at different scales of intervention.

While we believe the views we present are significant and widely held, these patterns are neither comprehensive nor proscriptive. Rather, this document is an experiment in cataloguing and catalyzing. AI is not out of our control, and An AI Pattern Language calls attention to the ways in which humans make choices about the development and deployment of technology. This text was created in the spirit not of an answer, but of a question: How can we design the technological future in which we want to live?

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