Democracy Needs a Reboot for the Age of Artificial Intelligence

Katharine Dempsey at The Nation: “…A healthy modern democracy requires ordinary citizens to participate in public discussions about rapidly advancing technologies. We desperately need new policies, regulations, and safety nets for those displaced by machines. With computing power accelerating exponentially, the scale of AI’s significance is still not being fully internalized. The 2017 McKinsey Global Initiative report “A Future that Works” predicts that AI and advanced robotics could automate roughly half of all work globally by 2055, but, McKinsey notes, “this could happen up to 20 years earlier or later depending on the various factors, in addition to other wider economic conditions.”

Granted, the media are producing more articles focused on artificial intelligence, but too often these pieces veer into hysterics. Wired magazine labeled this year’s coverage “The Great Tech Panic of 2017.” We need less fear-mongering and more rational conversation. Dystopian narratives, while entertaining, can also be disorienting. Skynet from the Terminatormovies is not imminent. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t hazards ahead….

Increasingly, to thoughtfully discuss ethics, politics, or business, the general population needs to pay attention to AI. In 1989, Ursula Franklin, the distinguished German-Canadian experimental physicist, delivered a series of lectures titled “The Real World of Technology.” Franklin opened her lectures with an important observation: “The viability of technology, like democracy, depends in the end on the practice of justice and on the enforcements of limits to power.”

For Franklin, technology is not a neutral set of tools; it can’t be divorced from society or values. Franklin further warned that “prescriptive technologies”—ones that isolate tasks, such as factory-style work—find their way into our social infrastructures and create modes of compliance and orthodoxy. These technologies facilitate top-down control….(More)”.