Soylent Science

Putting People Back in The Loop

Soylent Science is Chrome Extension that substitutes the word “human” for “people” on any website you are visiting.

After installing the extension, at the press of a button you will be able to see swap the word “human” with the word “people” in any website you visit. If it doesn’t work, clear the cache! (the extension subsitites “humans” with “People_” on purpose, to keep explicit the context in which somebody writes the plural of humans).

Why Soylent Science?

The Ridiculous Software project is specially interested in Artificial Intelligence and other ridiculous ways of interacting with computers. While doing work for Stupid Technology, the R&D wing of Ridiculous Software, it became apparent that proper research in AI and Computers loves talk about “humans” when dealing with the impact, effect, and implications of these technologies.

But “humans” are not necessarily “people”. Humans is a “scientific” term that refers to, according to Wikipedia, “the most abundant and widespread species of primate”. And “people” is more of a social and political word that encompasses who (allowed to be a) part of a community, and also implicitly how these communities are formed.

In recent AI and Machine Learning research, we can read uses of the word “human” to address the rational biological procedural agent that is required to act in certain ways to help address the problems of these technologies. Expressions like “human in the loop” and “human-centered AI” appeal to understanding the challenges of computational technologies from a species perspective, not from a social, political, cultural angle.

The problem is that the human in the loop is a person. That the human-centered AI is actually used by people. And people are complicated! They are social, political creatures with opinions and bodies and feelings!

So when thinking about addressing the problems of digital technologies, or creating new tech, it’s always easier to think about “humans”. I can’t shake off the idea that “humans” in these contexts means “people, as processed by a computer".

Seeing “people” as “humans” makes complexities like social constructions, personhood, and identity go away. The complexity of social constructions, of personhood, of politics, they all wash away in the generic, “scientific” phrasing of “human”.

Addressing tech problems by thinking about “humans” ignores people. And people is a way of talking about politics and societies. For example: during long periods in history, not all humans were considered to be “people” (thanks to Dom Ford for this reference!).

It’s easier to be Scientific and solve social and political problems by framing them as Scientific problems that can be solved by Science and Science. The Human in The Loop is a Scientific, Rational Actor. We want those “humans” in the loop, not “people”, with all their mess!

Soylent Science highlights what gets lost when we use scientificism to address problems that are political and social in nature. Try it yourself: install Soylent Science, and then visit these google scholar links.

Or, you can use the extension to check out how Ridiculous Software thinks of people!