Skip to comments.AI is indeed a threat to democracy
Posted on 09/06/2018 6:01:58 AM PDT by Heartlander
Historian Yuval Noah Harari argues at The Atlantic that artificial intelligence may subvert democracy by concentrating power in a small elite:
The emergence of liberal democracies is associated with ideals of liberty and equality that may seem self-evident and irreversible. But these ideals are far more fragile than we believe. Their success in the 20th century depended on unique technological conditions that may prove ephemeral.
There is indeed an association between democracies and liberty but the arrow of causation may travel in a different direction than Harari assumes. While democracy has coincided with political liberty in the West over the past century or two, it is indisputable that, historically, tyranny has also emerged from democratic institutions.
Totalitarianism seems to need the soil of democracy soil to germinate. Bolshevism arose from the democratic Kerensky government and Nazism arose from the democratic Weimar Republic. Maos tyranny emerged from Sun Yat-sens republican China. It seems unlikely that Lenin, Hitler, or Mao would have arisen had the Czar, the Kaiser, or the Emperor remained in power. Under traditional autocrats, the fate of cunning totalitarian demons was a rope, not a podium. The Czar, after all, hanged Lenins brother. But Kerensky simply folded before Lenin.
Thus Harari seems to misunderstand the relationship between democracy, liberty, and tyranny. Tyrannyat least, the totalitarian form of itis not the opposite of democracy. Tyranny is the scion of democracydemocracys offspring, not its antithesis. The important question, yet to be satisfactorily answered, is this: Is tyranny democracys bastard or its true heir? To what extent is tyranny the inevitable spawn of democracy? Plato may have understood better: He proposed that democracy led quite naturally and inevitably to tyranny. We moderns seem blissfully unaware of the natural, and seemingly inevitable, fate of republics.
It is with Platos warning in mind that we should approach Hararis main pointthat technology in general, and artificial intelligence in particularlets loose the hounds of tyranny. That may not be because technology subverts democracy but because technology empowers democracy.
Technology, and particularly AI, makes democratic government immediate and pervasive. It invites the electoratethe mob into your living room. Any genius can capture the thoughts of billions of people with mere keystrokes. But then any fool can also write an incendiary blog post that is available worldwide instantly. An aspiring totalitarian need not rent a stadium or evade the Kaisers police. He merely needs a Google account and some spare moments, and he can reach you anywhere you live.
Technology endangers liberty because it advances liberty. Libertarian democracy is unstable. Technology leverages this instability because it leverages mans intellect and will. Modern technology empowers man in ways that are utterly unprecedented. For example, the Arab Spring was the consequence largely of the internet, which enables instantaneous dissemination of ideology. It ultimately empowered Islamism, not humanism. But it empowered Islamism not despite democracy, but via democracy. The mob demanded change, and the imams served it up.
What is it about technology, and specifically about artificial intelligence, that potentiates tyranny? Harari understands some of it. He raises economic issues such as displaced workers and rising elites, which are genuine consequences of modern technology. But they are not the core issue. Harari glimpses the root of AIs transformative power in the advent of self-driving cars:
Two particularly important nonhuman abilities that AI possesses are connectivity and updatability For example, many drivers are unfamiliar with all the changing traffic regulations on the roads they drive, and they often violate them. In addition, since every driver is a singular entity, when two vehicles approach the same intersection, the drivers sometimes miscommunicate their intentions and collide. Self-driving cars, by contrast, will know all the traffic regulations and never disobey them on purpose, and they could all be connected to one another. When two such vehicles approach the same junction, they wont really be two separate entities, but part of a single algorithm. The chances that they might miscommunicate and collide will therefore be far smaller. Yuval Noah Harari, “Why Technology Favors Tyranny” at The Atlantic
Harari is right about the connectivity and updatability of AI. But we can also discern a more profound and insidious consequence in his example. Imagine two men walking in a crowd. They avoid colliding by deliberately watching and gauging each others movementsthey make eye contact and assess body motion and the direction of steps. If the men are driving cars, they obey traffic laws and use turn signals to avoid a collision. If they are in self-driving cars, the algorithm avoids the collisionthe men do nothing at all but sit in the car. At each stage of advancing technology, the men are less and less aware of each other and of the measures needed to avoid a collision. In the self-driving car, they are completely unaware of the anti-collision measures. They are blind to the algorithm.
Each technological advance makes collision less likelythe men are less likely to collide while driving cars than they are to collide in a crowdand less likely still to collide in self-driving cars. But with each technological advance, the collision avoidance mechanisms are less apparent. In fact, it is likely that no one person fully understands in detail all the factors entailed in avoiding collisions in self-driving cars. The collision avoidance is the result of the engineers and manufacturers of the cars, the hardware designers and software developers of the processors, the lasers, the radar, the cameras, and the sonar. AI increases efficiency and effectiveness at the cost of obscurity.
It is the obscurity of AI that most impairs liberty. We do not know what is being done to us or even what is being done by us. What algorithms does Google use when we search on political topics? We dont know. It is inevitable that such searches are biased, perhaps deliberately, perhaps not. But the bias is unknown to us, and perhaps unknown even to Google, and the obscurity grows by the year. Google searches may (and likely do) tend to favor certain political views.
It is not far-fetched to imagine self-driving cars choosing routes that go past merchants who advertise surreptitiously, using the autonomous vehicles. How much would Mc Donalds pay to route the cars and slow them down when they pass the Golden Arches? How much would a political party pay to skew a Google search on their candidates? It is likely that searches are skewed in ways that are not deliberate as well. The unfathomable layers of complexity in contemporary AI make objectivity and balance nearly impossible to ensure and enforce.
The most dangerous aspect of AI to our liberty is the obscurity inherent to it. AI blinds us to motives and processes.
The second danger of AI, which follows on the first and enormously magnifies it, is contagion. AI provides boundless instantaneity and dissemination of ideas. I can type a sentence and (in principle) have it read on every computer on earth in less than a second. I can praise my heroes and denounce my enemies instantly and without geographical bounds. Flash mobs are inherent to AI, and there is no practical limit to their immediacy, size, or fervor. Social media provides us with virtual mobs, and not infrequently physical ones, within seconds or minutes.
The economic and social impacts of technology, as Harari points out, are profound and of great interest. But the primal danger that AI poses to humanity is deeper and more insidious than economics. AI changes our psyche, individually and collectively. AI obscures the forces acting on us and the internet makes our reactions to them go viral.
Obscure contagionrapid, wide dissemination of ideas we dont understandis the prime threat AI poses to humanity. It is an existential threat to human dignity and flourishing. And this threat is made graver, not less grave, by our democracy, which, as Plato understood, is the necessary soil of tyranny.
It is not clear that we can avoid our fate, which seems to be rushing at us faster and faster, as any perceptive observer of the contemporary world and national affairs can attest. If we are to retain our humanity and our liberty, we must understand what is happening to us. We must understand the unprecedented force kindled by artificial intelligence. That force is the obscurity and fierce contagion of ideas.
Note: The essay Why Technology Favors Tyranny is adapted from Yuval Harares most recent book, 21 Lessons for the 21st Century
No worries since we’re not a democracy.
The power of artificial intelligence comes from the data source but his input which is all personal information private Lee surrendered
AI is allied to Transhumanism, the real problem!; Jon Rappoport has numerous articles on this.
There is no other tech that keeps me up at night the way AI does.
I wont even use any of those smart speaker gizmos because of that.
Musk worries about AI and gives his reasons. I may actually be more aligned with the author cited in the above piece.
I'm driving one of Musk's cars, and tell the radio or satellite radio or streaming audio to change to Rush Limbaugh. It does, but the AI takes control of the car and steers me head-on into a semi.
What the founders understood about democracy - one man one vote on everything - is that it only works in small localities. The larger the jurisdiction attempting 100% democracy 100% of the time, the more the process tends to become a tyranny.
So the founders have us a constitutional republic (res publica, as in “representing” the public, not mere democracy).
They understood that a “majority” that thinks just because it is a “democracy” it can do whatever it wants, it will, naturally become a “tyranny of the majority”. At some point it will evolve to a dictatorship, as Rome did after its republic fell.
What a geographically huge “democracy” will ignore is the distinctness, diversity, and identity bound up in its places, and its places will begin to see the center as representing no one but itself.
Trump was already a reaction to that arrogant “center” that thinks it can democratically, and by executive and judicial fiat, impose its writ, unwillingly, on all the diverse places across the land; sqaushing the diversity and identity of the regions into a vast mono-culture tyranny of a “democracy”.
How much would a political party pay to skew a Google search on their candidates? It is likely that searches are skewed in ways that are not deliberate as well. The unfathomable layers of complexity in contemporary AI make objectivity and balance nearly impossible to ensure and enforce.
He's right on this part... and humans will adapt. We'll 'notice' the McDonald's route is being chosen too often and we'll grouse about it. Just like we do with pop-up ads.
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