Power to the People? Opportunities and Challenges for Participatory AI


A Birhane, W Isaac, V Prabhakaran, M Díaz, MC Elish, I Gabriel, S Mohammed

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Participatory approaches to artificial intelligence are gaining momentum with the view that participation opens the gateway to an inclusive, equitable, robust, responsible and trustworthy AI.

Indeed, these approaches are essential to understanding and adequately representing the needs, desires and perspectives of historically marginalized communities. However, there is also a lack of clarity about what meaningful participation entails and what it is expected to do in the context of AI.

This paper reviews participatory approaches across varied historical contexts as well as participatory methods and practices within the AI pipeline. We then examine three case studies in participatory AI. Ultimately, participation supports beneficial, emancipatory and empowering technology design, only when it avoids cooptation, power asymmetries and conflation with other activities.

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