MIT Technology Review is looking into the ‘colonialization’ patterns of AI.

MIT Studies ‘Colonization,’ Growth of AI Around the Globe in Multi-Part Study

If you regularly read MIT Technology Review you know they approach the world of technology with serious questions and explanations. This week was no different. The author of the article we are highlighting is Karen Hao. And frankly, she raises a completely unexpected issue concerning AI and how it could be mimicking the colonization patterns that nations used to build empires. The article was published on

You may shake your head and think that’s pretty far out in the left-field but read what Hao puts forward about similarities with our colonial past and how it ties to our AI future. Hao begins with:

“My husband and I love to eat and to learn about history. So shortly after we married, we chose to honeymoon along the southern coast of Spain. The region, historically ruled by Greeks, Romans, Muslims, and Christians in turn, is famed for its stunning architecture and rich fusion of cuisines. Little did I know how much this personal trip would intersect with my reporting. Over the last few years, an increasing number of scholars have argued that the impact of AI is repeating the patterns of colonial history.”

European colonialism, they say, was characterized by the violent capture of land, extraction of resources, and exploitation of people—for example, through slavery—for the economic enrichment of the conquering country. While it would diminish the depth of past traumas to say the AI industry is repeating this violence today, it is now using other subtler ways to enrich the wealthy and powerful at the expense of the poor.

As Hao continues her trip through Spain, she’s reading the book, The Costs Of Connection, which was one of the first publications to mention the concept of “data colonization.” As Hao began to see the depth of the disruption that one culture does to another when it takes advantage of the resources in the weaker nation, she makes this observation:

The AI industry does not seek to capture land as the conquistadors of the Caribbean and Latin America did, but the same desire for profit drives it to expand its reach. The more users a company can acquire for its products, the more subjects it can have for its algorithms, and the more resources—data—it can harvest from their activities, their movements, and even their bodies.

The referencing of colonial empires compared to the wave of AI is just the first part of a four-part story that MIT Technology Review will publish and of course, we will share with you here at

According to Hao, the aim of this series is to broaden the view of AI’s impact on society so as to begin to figure out how things could be different. It’s not possible to talk about “AI for everyone” (Google’s rhetoric), “responsible AI” (Facebook’s rhetoric), or “broadly distribut[ing]” its benefits (OpenAI’s rhetoric) without confronting the obstacles in the way.