So you have decided to join in and write some kind of post, article, thought piece about Artificial Intelligence. Of course you have something to add to the pile. And in a flash of brilliance, you turn to one of a kazillion AI Image Generators (according to Google, 1 kazillion = 959,000,000) and you toss a prompt in the box.

I can almost bet you get an image of either some kind of white plastic humanoid shaped robot or a giant head filled with bright blue circuitry. Something like…

OMG, It’s a SPLOT! Yes, for mostly my own amusement, I spun out another WordPress site running the TRU Collector theme for the grand delusional purpose of collecting thousands of such images, be they ones used in Sunstacks galore or tech news sites, or even ones people see pop out of DALL•E, Craiyon, Midjourney, et al.

For one thing, it was a bit of a test to see if I still could whip these sites together, it’s been a while, but it worked like a champ. Yep the docs are on and it is super easy using the WP Pusher plugin to install from and automatically update.

So it’s good to go, and the contribution form is standing by. I shared in Mastodon and sent links to some colleagues, but as i goes, so far, it’s just been me adding new sadly robotic metaphors.

The Idea is Hardly Original

My non robotic brain started clicking when I came across the Better Images of AI site, which leads with:

Have you noticed that news stories and marketing material about Artificial Intelligence are typically illustrated with clichéd and misleading images?

Abstract, futuristic or science-fiction-inspired images of AI hinder the understanding of the technology’s already significant societal and environmental impacts.

Images relating machine intelligence to human intelligence set unrealistic expectations and misstate the capabilities of AI.

Images representing AI as sentient robots mask the accountability of the humans actually developing the technology, and can suggest the presence of robots where there are none.

Such images potentially sow fear, and research shows they can be laden with historical assumptions about gender, ethnicity and religion.

What the offer is a library of more interesting images, created by real humans and each licensed under Creative Commons. And in the blog I find this bit of a novel approach, asking kids– What do children think AI looks like?

I was also left with two conclusions. Firstly, people’s images of AI are shaped heavily by how AI has been explained to them. If the explanation contains certain tropes, so will their understanding of what AI looks like.

Secondly, asking children, families, and other non-technical people the simple question of “what do you think AI looks like?” showed how curious the public really are about AI. The imaginative responses to this question provide fresh inspiration of what to do — and what not to do — when creating images of AI.

The Better Images of AI About page has a treasure trove of more interesting research and readings, like from the fabulous (and new to me) AI Myths site on AI = shiny humanoid robots

In this section, we’ll discuss the problem of representing AI in the media, and how pictures of shiny humanoid robots mislead us as to what AI is, and also reinforce harmful stereotypes and plain bad taste. We provide a typology of what makes robot pictures inappropriate and terrible, and offer some guidelines for better representation of AI.

Heck in 2019 Tim Gordon wrote about Mistaken Identity: why the media using humanoid robots to represent AI is bad news and in the previous year Adam Geitgey wrote The Real Scandal of AI: Awful Stock Photos. And see the comprehensive Portrayals and perceptions of AI and why they matter from the Royal Society, part of the AI Narratives project at the Leverhulme Centre for the Future of Intelligence.

I keep scraping to find also from the Leverhulme Centre the Global AI Narratives Project, which ges really interesting:

Different cultures have been imagining intelligent machines since long before we could build them.

These visions vary greatly across different religious, philosophical, literary and cinematic traditions. Yet, as AI begins to fulfil its potential, many of these perspectives are marginalised. Hollywood narratives dominate the cultural sphere, while the technology itself is developed by a narrow elite that is disproportionately white, male and US-based.

The Global AI Narratives (GAIN) research project aims to understand how cultures beyond the Anglophone West imagine life with intelligent machines, and at the same time create a genuinely global community of scholars who can relate these diverse visions to pressing questions of AI ethics and governance.

Bcause I can and its still insanely useful to me, I am tagging readings in Pinboard. Besides, the really smart people are on this effort. I am here just to build a collection of these lame and shoot for the easy to spawn metaphors.

Does anyone want to play? Just find and upload an image you see published somewhere to The Sadly Robotic Metaphors SPLOT via its share form, no logins needed, nor do you have to say who you are. I bet if you started color averaging these images, you’d see the spikes in the glowing blue colors.

My SPLOT is just more amusement, please make good use of and share widely the Better Images of AI project. And if you are going to publish something about AI, don’t cop out and use the same tropes so many others are doing.

Just for fun, I tested the capability of ChatGPT (3.5, I am cheap) to ask What is the true meaning of the acronym SPLOT? Just look at this gem:

“SPLOT” can stand for several things depending on the context, but one common meaning is “Smallest/Simplest Possible Learning Online Tool.” It’s often associated with educational technology and refers to tools or resources designed to simplify and streamline the learning process for students and educators.


And to go deep in the robot hole, check out the Old Robots site. Isn’t this refreshing from the Giant Blue Glowing Brain images?

Just one of countless collections old robots documented on the Old Robots Web Site each one leading to a wild slurp of history, e.g. Q. T. Robot

Featured Image: One of my own! I have more than enough of my own photos that I do not need some prompt and dump cheesy images. Bad Robot? flickr photo by cogdogblog shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

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An early 90s builder of web stuff and blogging Alan Levine barks at on web storytelling (#ds106 #4life), photography, bending WordPress, and serendipity in the infinite internet river. He thinks it's weird to write about himself in the third person. And he is 100% into the Fediverse (or tells himself so) Tooting as

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