Honesty can only get you so far



The first time I was featured on BBC, I had hundreds of journalists contact me. Only a few decided to publish my words after we had spoken. I realized that many of them came to me with ready made quotes. They were hoping I would repeat those words so they can quote me:

  • Journalist: So would you say that "every company should avoid using AI like the plague?"  
  • Me: No, I wouldn't say that.  
  • Journalist: So what would you say companies should do about AI?  
  • Me: (long explanation about how we are all discovering this together and we are learning as we go)  
  • Journalist: I see, so they should avoid it at all costs because we don't understand it.
  • Me: ...sigh...  

Being honest and telling the truth is rarely dramatic. For example, if you correctly label some systems as Automated Systems instead of AI, few people will want to talk to you. The truth is more down to earth, it's less flashy, it is the truth. But the truth is not sexy.  

I wanted to avoid this mistake this time around. A new round of journalists called me after my latest article on BBC. But, what is the alternative? If I don't tell the truth, what do I say? Do I blatantly lie? What's the alternative to dry, yeastless factuality?

I found out that if you don't tell the truth, the alternative is not to lie. Rather than tell them that what they are referring to as AI, is merely a sophisticated stack of if-and-elses, I'd tell them about the utility of such software. With racial tensions, when they ask if I had been bullied as the only black programmer in my team, my answer is to explain the effect of being the only black programmer. There are many ways black people have been treated unfairly without getting lynched. In itself this is a much more interesting story then bullied vs not bullied.

When honesty can only get you so far, the alternative is to stop lying.