Participation in the Age of Foundation Models

Paper by Harini Suresh et al: “Growing interest and investment in the capabilities of foundation models has positioned such systems to impact a wide array of services, from banking to healthcare. Alongside these opportunities is the risk that these systems reify existing power imbalances and cause disproportionate harm to historically marginalized groups. The larger scale and domain-agnostic manner in which these models operate further heightens the stakes: any errors or harms are liable to reoccur across use cases. In AI & ML more broadly, participatory approaches hold promise to lend agency and decision-making power to marginalized stakeholders, leading to systems that better benefit justice through equitable and distributed governance. But existing approaches in participatory AI/ML are typically grounded in a specific application and set of relevant stakeholders, and it is not straightforward how to apply these lessons to the context of foundation models. Our paper aims to fill this gap.
First, we examine existing attempts at incorporating participation into foundation models. We highlight the tension between participation and scale, demonstrating that it is intractable for impacted communities to meaningfully shape a foundation model that is intended to be universally applicable. In response, we develop a blueprint for participatory foundation models that identifies more
local, application-oriented opportunities for meaningful participation. In addition to the “foundation” layer, our framework proposes the “subfloor” layer, in which stakeholders develop shared technical infrastructure, norms and governance for a grounded domain such as clinical care, journalism, or finance, and the “surface” (or application) layer, in which affected communities shape the use of a foundation model for a specific downstream task. The intermediate “subfloor” layer scopes the range of potential harms to consider, and affords communities more concrete avenues for deliberation and intervention. At the same time, it avoids duplicative effort by scaling input across relevant use cases. Through three case studies in clinical care, financial services, and journalism, we illustrate how this multi-layer model can create more meaningful opportunities for participation than solely intervening at the foundation layer…(More)”.