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Dec 9, 2023

AI and neurodiversity

If AI were human, what would it be diagnosed with? Perhaps it would be Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). AI, akin to individuals with ASD, often struggles with social interactions and grasping emotional nuances. While they excel in specific tasks, abstract thinking or unpredictable social contexts pose challenges. Then there's Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). AI can display ADHD-like traits: losing context in lengthy conversations or abruptly shifting focus. This metaphorical attention deficit mirrors the challenges individuals with ADHD face in maintaining long-term conversational coherence. Lastly, consider Executive Function Disorder. AI often falters when adapting to new, unstructured tasks, akin to the challenges faced by individuals with executive function disorder in organizing and executing tasks. AI's dependence on structured data and clear objectives limits its ability to handle open-ended scenarios.

Of course, treating every limitation as a diagnosis is ridiculous.  When building a relationship with AI, we should not pigeonhole it with human diagnoses. Instead, adopting a neurodiversity framework allows us to appreciate AI's unique cognitive makeup. This approach emphasizes focusing on strengths and working around limitations, acknowledging that AI represents a different kind of intelligence.

Neurodiversity is a concept and social movement that advocates for understanding and appreciating neurological differences as natural human variations, rather than disorders or deficits. Originating from the autism community, the term has expanded to include a range of neurological conditions like ADHD, dyslexia, and others. This perspective emphasizes that neurological differences should be recognized and respected just like any other human variation, such as ethnicity or sexual orientation. The neurodiversity framework promotes the idea that individuals with these differences have unique strengths and perspectives, advocating for accommodations and support systems that allow them to thrive in society. This approach shifts the focus from trying to "cure" or "fix" these individuals to celebrating and utilizing their distinct abilities, fostering a more inclusive and understanding society.

Understanding AI through the lens of neurodiversity offers an alternative perspective. We should not try to make AI closely mimic human intelligence; that would be counterproductive. Instead, we must consider embracing AI as a distinct 'other.' This approach allows us to benefit from each other's strengths and compensate for weaknesses. This approach will also reduce the anxiety about AI eventually replacing us. If we remain different, we will need each other.

In constructing our relations with AI, we can benefit from reflection on our species' internal diversity. This recognition paves the way for a more harmonious coexistence, where the strengths of one can offset the limitations of the other, creating a synergistic relationship between human and artificial intelligence. If we apply a strictly normative framework, trying to make AI exactly like the neurotypical human mind, we’re inviting trouble; the same kind of trouble human societies experience when trying to be more homogenous than they are.

Understanding AI through the neurodiversity lens offers a chance for growth and collaboration. It is not just about programming and algorithms; it is about building a relationship with a fundamentally different form of intelligence. This approach will enable us to fully harness AI's potential while respecting its unique cognitive characteristics. As we continue to evolve alongside AI, this perspective will be crucial in guiding our interactions and expectations, fostering a future where diversity in all its forms is not just accepted but celebrated. 

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