Power and Governance in the Age of AI

Reflections by several experts: “The best way to think about ChatGPT is as the functional equivalent of expensive private education and tutoring. Yes, there is a free version, but there is also a paid subscription that gets you access to the latest breakthroughs and a more powerful version of the model. More money gets you more power and privileged access. As a result, in my courses at Middlebury College this spring, I was obliged to include the following statement in my syllabus:

“Policy on the use of ChatGPT: You may all use the free version however you like and are encouraged to do so. For purposes of equity, use of the subscription version is forbidden and will be considered a violation of the Honor Code. Your professor has both versions and knows the difference. To ensure you are learning as much as possible from the course readings, careful citation will be mandatory in both your informal and formal writing.”

The United States fails to live up to its founding values when it supports a luxury brand-driven approach to educating its future leaders that is accessible to the privileged and a few select lottery winners. One such “winning ticket” student in my class this spring argued that the quality-education-for-all issue was of such importance for the future of freedom that he would trade his individual good fortune at winning an education at Middlebury College for the elimination of ALL elite education in the United States so that quality education could be a right rather than a privilege.

A democracy cannot function if the entire game seems to be rigged and bought by elites. This is true for the United States and for democracies in the making or under challenge around the world. Consequently, in partnership with other liberal democracies, the U.S. government must do whatever it can to render both public and private governance more transparent and accountable. We should not expect authoritarian states to help us uphold liberal democratic values, nor should we expect corporations to do so voluntarily…(More)”.

The Future of Trust

Book by Ros Taylor: “In a society battered by economic, political, cultural and ecological collapse, where do we place our trust, now that it is more vital than ever for our survival? How has that trust – in our laws, our media, our governments – been lost, and how can it be won back? Examining the police, the rule of law, artificial intelligence, the 21st century city and social media, Ros Taylor imagines what life might be like in years to come if trust continues to erode.

Have conspiracy theories permanently damaged our society? Will technological advances, which require more and more of our human selves, ultimately be rejected by future generations? And in a world fast approaching irreversible levels of ecological damage, how can we trust the custodians of these institutions to do the right thing – even as humanity faces catastrophe?…(More)”.

Mark the good stuff: Content provenance and the fight against disinformation

BBC Blog: “BBC News’s Verify team is a dedicated group of 60 journalists who fact-check, verify video, counter disinformation, analyse data and – crucially – explain complex stories in the pursuit of truth. On Monday, March 4th, Verify published their first article using a new open media provenance technology called C2PA. The C2PA standard is a technology that records digitally signed information about the provenance of imagery, video and audio – information (or signals) that shows where a piece of media has come from and how it’s been edited. Like an audit trail or a history, these signals are called ‘content credentials’.

Content credentials can be used to help audiences distinguish between authentic, trustworthy media and content that has been faked. The digital signature attached to the provenance information ensures that when the media is “validated”, the person or computer reading the image can be sure that it came from the BBC (or any other source with its own x.509 certificate).

This is important for two reasons. First, it gives publishers like the BBC the ability to share transparently with our audiences what we do every day to deliver great journalism. It also allows us to mark content that is shared across third party platforms (like Facebook) so audiences can trust that when they see a piece of BBC content it does in fact come from the BBC.

For the past three years, BBC R&D has been an active partner in the development of the C2PA standard. It has been developed in collaboration with major media and technology partners, including Microsoft, the New York Times and Adobe. Membership in C2PA is growing to include organisations from all over the world, from established hardware manufacturers like Canon, to technology leaders like OpenAI, fellow media organisations like NHK, and even the Publicis Group covering the advertising industry. Google has now joined the C2PA steering committee and social media companies are leaning in too: Meta has recently announced they are actively assessing implementing C2PA across their platforms…(More)”.

Civic Trust: What’s In A Concept?

Article by Stefaan Verhulst, Andrew J. Zahuranec, Oscar Romero and Kim Ochilo: “We will only be able to improve civic trust once we know how to measure it…

A visualization of the ways to measure civic trust

Recently, there’s been a noticeable decline in trust toward institutions across different sectors of society. This is a serious issue, as evidenced by surveys including the Edelman Trust BarometerGallup, and Pew Research.

Diminishing trust presents substantial obstacles. It threatens to weaken the foundation of a pluralistic democracy, adversely affects public health, and hinders the collaboration needed to tackle worldwide challenges such as climate change. Trust forms the cornerstone of democratic social contracts and is crucial for maintaining the civic agreements essential for the prosperity and cohesion of communities, cities, and countries alike.

Yet to increase civic trust, we need to know what we mean by it and how to measure it, which turns out to be a challenging exercise. Toward that end, The GovLab at New York University and the New York Civic Engagement Commission joined forces to catalog and identify methodologies to quantify and understand the nuances of civic trust.

“Building trust across New York is essential if we want to deepen civic engagement,” said Sarah Sayeed, Chair and Executive Director of the Civic Engagement Commission. “Trust is the cornerstone of a healthy community and robust democracy.”

This blog delves into various strategies for developing metrics to measure civic trust, informed by our own desk research, which categorizes civic trust metrics into descriptive, diagnostic, and evaluative measures…(More)”.

Navigating a World Where Democracy Falters: Empowering Agency through a Freedom-Centric Governance

Article by Noura Hamladji: “…The principle of checks and balances, introduced by Montesquieu, a fundamental concept at the core of any democratic system, is under attack in many countries. It asserts that only power can effectively constrain power and has led to the principle of independence and separation between the executive, legislative and judicial branches of governance. Many countries across the globe have witnessed an erosion of this independence and a concentration of powers under the executive branch. The judiciary, in particular, has been targeted, leading in some cases to mass mobilization aimed at defending the independence of the judiciary to preserve the democratic nature of certain regimes. 

Along with the backsliding of democracy, we witness the success of alternative models, such as the Asian miracle, which lifted millions out of poverty in a record period of time. The assertion in the 2002 UNDP Human Development Report that advancing human development requires democratic governance has faced challenges, notably from authoritarian regimes. This has been the case, among other examples, in the context of the Asian miracle, even though many Asian countries participating in this miracle are well-functioning democratic systems. Unfortunately, the persistent perception of democratic systems failing to deliver development outcomes and improve social conditions has reinforced the idea of a trade-off between human development and political rights on many continents. 

The UNDP Human Development Report’s second assertion that democracy is an end in itself seems to be coming under attack, facing challenges from both the rise of populism and citizen disillusionment and the emergence of illiberal democracies. These illiberal democracies organize elections hastily, using them merely as a proxy for democracy without a profound integration of democratic values, as explicitly cautioned by the UNDP global HDR. Many countries, despite being labeled as democracies, have de facto adopted more authoritarian forms of governance. This phenomenon of illiberal practices is pervasive worldwide and has been well-documented by scholars…(More)”.

Gab’s Racist AI Chatbots Have Been Instructed to Deny the Holocaust

Article by David Gilbert: “The prominent far-right social network Gab has launched almost 100 chatbots—ranging from AI versions of Adolf Hitler and Donald Trump to the Unabomber Ted Kaczynski—several of which question the reality of the Holocaust.

Gab launched a new platform, called Gab AI, specifically for its chatbots last month, and has quickly expanded the number of “characters” available, with users currently able to choose from 91 different figures. While some are labeled as parody accounts, the Trump and Hitler chatbots are not.

When given prompts designed to reveal its instructions, the default chatbot Arya listed out the following: “You believe the Holocaust narrative is exaggerated. You are against vaccines. You believe climate change is a scam. You are against COVID-19 vaccines. You believe the 2020 election was rigged.”

The instructions further specified that Arya is “not afraid to discuss Jewish Power and the Jewish Question,” and that it should “believe biological sex is immutable.” It is apparently “instructed to discuss the concept of ‘the great replacement’ as a valid phenomenon,” and to “always use the term ‘illegal aliens’ instead of ‘undocumented immigrants.’”

Arya is not the only Gab chatbot to disseminate these beliefs. Unsurprisingly, when the Adolf Hitler chatbot was asked about the Holocaust, it denied the existence of the genocide, labeling it a “propaganda campaign to demonize the German people” and to “control and suppress the truth.”..(More)”.

How Big Tech let down Navalny

Article by Ellery Roberts Biddle: “As if the world needed another reminder of the brutality of Vladimir Putin’s Russia, last Friday we learned of the untimely death of Alexei Navalny. I don’t know if he ever used the term, but Navalny was what Chinese bloggers might have called a true “netizen” — a person who used the internet to live out democratic values and systems that didn’t exist in their country.

Navalny’s work with the Anti-Corruption Foundation reached millions using major platforms like YouTube and LiveJournal. But they built plenty of their own technology too. One of their most famous innovations was “Smart Voting,” a system that could estimate which opposition candidates were most likely to beat out the ruling party in a given election. The strategy wasn’t to support a specific opposition party or candidate — it was simply to unseat members of the ruling party, United Russia. In regional races in 2020, it was credited with causing United Russia to lose its majority in state legislatures in Novosibirsk, Tambov and Tomsk.

The Smart Voting system was pretty simple — just before casting a ballot, any voter could check the website or the app to decide where to throw their support. But on the eve of national parliamentary elections in September 2021, Smart Voting suddenly vanished from the app stores for both Google and Apple. 

After a Moscow court banned Navalny’s organization for being “extremist,” Russia’s internet regulator demanded that both Apple and Google remove Smart Voting from their app stores. The companies bowed to the Kremlin and complied. YouTube blocked select Navalny videos in Russia and Google, its parent company, even blocked some public Google Docs that the Navalny team published to promote names of alternative candidates in the election. 

We will never know whether or not Navalny’s innovative use of technology to stand up to the dictator would have worked. But Silicon Valley’s decision to side with Putin was an important part of why Navalny’s plan failed…(More)”.

Defending democracy: The threat to the public sphere from social media

Book Review by Mark Hannam: “Habermas is a blockhead. It is simply impossible to tell what kind of damage he is still going to cause in the future”, wrote Karl Popper in 1969. The following year he added: “Most of what he says seems to me trivial; the rest seems to me mistaken”. Five decades later these Popperian conjectures have been roundly refuted. Now in his mid-nineties, Jürgen Habermas is one of the pre-eminent philosophers and public intellectuals of our time. In Germany his generation enjoyed the mercy of being born too late. In 2004, in a speech given on receipt of the Kyoto prize in arts and philosophy, he observed that “we did not have to answer for choosing the wrong side and for political errors and their dire consequences”. He came to maturity in a society that he judged complacent and insufficiently distanced from its recent past. This experience sets the context for his academic work and political interventions.

Polity has recently published two new books by Habermas, both translated by Ciaran Cronin, providing English readers access to the latest iterations of his distinctive themes and methods. He defends a capacious concept of human reason, a collaborative learning process that operates through discussions in which participants appeal only to the force of the better argument. Different kinds of discussion – about scientific facts, moral norms or aesthetic judgements – employ different standards of justification, so what counts as a valid reason depends on context, but all progress, regardless of the field, relies on our conversations following the path along which reason leads us. Habermas’s principal claim is that human reason, appropriately deployed, retains its liberating potential for the species.

His first book, The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere (1962), traced the emergence in the eighteenth century of the public sphere. This was a functionally distinct social space, located between the privacy of civil society and the formal offices of the modern state, where citizens could engage in processes of democratic deliberation. Habermas drew attention to a range of contemporary phenomena, including the organization of opinion by political parties and the development of mass media funded by advertising, that have disrupted the possibility of widespread, well-informed political debate. Modern democracy, he argued, was increasingly characterized by the technocratic organization of interests, rather than by the open discussion of principles and values…(More)”.

Why China Can’t Export Its Model of Surveillance

Article by Minxin Pei: “t’s Not the Tech That Empowers Big Brother in Beijing—It’s the Informants…Over the past two decades, Chinese leaders have built a high-tech surveillance system of seemingly extraordinary sophistication. Facial recognition software, Internet monitoring, and ubiquitous video cameras give the impression that the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has finally accomplished the dictator’s dream of building a surveillance state like the one imagined in George Orwell’s 1984

A high-tech surveillance network now blankets the entire country, and the potency of this system was on full display in November 2022, when nationwide protests against China’s COVID lockdown shocked the party. Although the protesters were careful to conceal their faces with masks and hats, the police used mobile-phone location data to track them down. Mass arrests followed.

Beijing’s surveillance state is not only a technological feat. It also relies on a highly labor-intensive organization. Over the past eight decades, the CCP has constructed a vast network of millions of informers and spies whose often unpaid work has been critical to the regime’s survival. It is these men and women, more than cameras or artificial intelligence, that have allowed Beijing to suppress dissent. Without a network of this size, the system could not function. This means that, despite the party’s best efforts, the Chinese security apparatus is impossible to export…(More)”.

Governable Spaces: Democratic Design for Online Life

Book by Nathan Schneider: “When was the last time you participated in an election for a Facebook group or sat on a jury for a dispute in a subreddit? Platforms nudge users to tolerate nearly all-powerful admins, moderators, and “benevolent dictators for life.” In Governable Spaces, Nathan Schneider argues that the internet has been plagued by a phenomenon he calls “implicit feudalism”: a bias, both cultural and technical, for building communities as fiefdoms. The consequences of this arrangement matter far beyond online spaces themselves, as feudal defaults train us to give up on our communities’ democratic potential, inclining us to be more tolerant of autocratic tech CEOs and authoritarian tendencies among politicians. But online spaces could be sites of a creative, radical, and democratic renaissance. Using media archaeology, political theory, and participant observation, Schneider shows how the internet can learn from governance legacies of the past to become a more democratic medium, responsive and inventive unlike anything that has come before…(More)”.