Strolling the leafy suburbs of Austin, Texas, one could be forgiven for thinking democracy is in a robust state of health. The trees are changing color and the world appears largely in order, the outcome of inevitable forces leading to ever greater levels of comfort, luxury, and efficiency. But as the historians are fond of reminding us, there’s nothing inevitable about democracy. Other, less equitable systems of government have historically been far more representational of human affairs. And the democratic liberal order has never been more fragile. Democracies have always had their opponents, but for the first time in history, the principal threat to it comes from shifting technological sands rather than power-hungry despots. As some of more perceptive among us have begun shouting from the rooftops, the rise of strong artificial intelligence could well send the spool of democracy unraveling across the floor.
Unlike despots, which have always circled the corridors of power, technological changes such as artificial intelligence can rarely be rolled back or contained. Rather than politics managing technology, it’s technology that manages political systems. Try to imagine the demise of the church as the seat of European power without the rise of the printing press and its subsequent “democratization” of knowledge. How different our global political order might be if the Axis powers had invented the atomic bomb before the Allies. In a similar vein, artificial intelligence seems likely to contain within it the germ of democracies’ downfall, or at the least, its radical transformation. To grasp this does not require any great leap of imagination or mathematical gymnastics, but rather a simple and straightforward chain of deduction.
The democratic process requires at least two fundamental mechanisms. The first is a fair and transparent method for collecting and tallying people’s votes. The second is an electorate that’s able to weigh the issues of the day without undue coercion. These twin requirements are the firmament upon which the tree of democracy grows, and without which it is bound to wither. Artificial intelligence is presently sawing at both these limbs. If we wish to sustain any kind of fair and functional democratic order, necessary solutions must be forthcoming.
Full Article: The AI Threat to Democracy – ExtremeTech.