ai and the Middle East, The Algorithmic Ghosts of Empires Past

When we talk about artificial intelligence in the Middle East, we cannot untangle it from the region’s long and tumultuous history with power – the lingering spectres of colonialism, the brutalities of military occupation, the revolving hierarchies of ethnic and sectarian oppression. AI does not exist in a vacuum, but rather gets shaped by and shapes these age-old dynamics of domination and resistance.

Look closer at the AI systems being deployed across the Middle East and you’ll find the fingerprints of former empires still present. The very data mills that feed the machine learning models often mine their training examples from repositories of orientalist archives, anthropological texts, and multimedia propaganda pieces – relics riddled with colonial lenses and racist tropes about Arabs and Muslims.

Predictive policing algorithms promised to fight crime then criminalize entire communities based on their names or neighborhoods. Computer vision models struggle to recognize Arab faces without first associating them with stereotypes of violence and terror. Even the language models representing the region’s rich dialects and scripts remain sorely lacking, a statistical echo of centuries of epistemic oppression and alienation from knowledge creation.

But AI is not just an inheritor of bias from the past – it has become a powerful new frontier for authoritarianism and social control. Across capitals like Riyadh, Cairo, and Istanbul, regimes are turning to AI-enabled surveillance and censorship tools to identify dissidents, curtail online freedoms, and systematize discrimination against minorities. An entire AI-assisted architecture of oppression is being erected on the ruins of the Arab Spring’s dashed dreams.

From the deserts of Jordan where destructive mining for AI’s rare earth minerals is starting anew, to the drone warzones flickering with the code of lethal autonomous systems, the Middle East is being remapped as a region of perpetual extraction, exploitation and experimentation. Its people’s biometrics, locations, messages and emotions ingested as mere training data by Orwellian security states. Its bodies, spaces and resources terraformed to quench machine learning’s infinite thirst.

Some argue that the solution lies in democratizing AI capabilities, empowering local communities to develop and steward these systems themselves rather than be subjugated by outside tech powers. But such an agenda will require decolonizing the entire field – dismantling not just AI’s racist code but its deeper civilizational shackles to empire, capital and cultural erasure.

Because in the end, the battle over artificial intelligence in the Middle East is ultimately about narrative power – about whose experiences and worldviews get embedded into this world-shaping technology and whose are disappeared into the ether. It is a battle over the right to not just be seen and heard, but to dream new futures unbounded by the dogmas of machines designed to entrap.

Can we let AI become the latest tool for dehumanization and authoritarian control? Can we treat its harms as some unforeseen malfunction when they are so intricately pre-coded into its colonial logics? The age of powerful ethical scrutiny of AI’s impacts and politics, especially but not only in the Middle East is overdue.


Thought-provoking question:

If AI systems are so deeply rooted in colonial power structures and racist ideologies about the Middle East, can they ever be “truly” decolonized – and what would that even mean? –and democratized to represent diverse Middle Eastern, Arab, Turkish, Islamic, Yezidi, …, perspectives and experiences?

Or is reimagining an entirely new paradigm of humane and just artificial intelligence required – one not birthed from the epics of Western empire?


OpenEdition schlägt Ihnen vor, diesen Beitrag wie folgt zu zitieren:
Victoria Mummelthei (18. Juni 2024). ai and the Middle East, The Algorithmic Ghosts of Empires Past. Keine Disziplin – No Discipline. Abgerufen am 18. Juli 2024 von https://nodiscipline.hypotheses.org/3244


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