Well-functioning democracies require a well-informed citizenry, an open social and political discourse and absence of opaque or deceitful influence. Western democracies have however always been prone to power asymmetries and to coercion and the curbing of these freedoms through oppression and propaganda. And while the powerful have always used tools and techniques to influence our opinions, the increasing use of the latest digital technologies in the 21st century, such as Artificial Intelligence (“AI”), has put these processes on steroids. Adoption of AI and datafication has raised concerns whether society is sliding into an Orwellian nightmare, where all of our actions are being scrutinized, controlled and manipulated at a scale that has never been possible before.
While Europe can be commended for taking legislative steps to counter some of this, we fear that we have barely scratched the surface of understanding what might be necessary to effectively protect our democracies from the adverse effects of AI.
Asymmetries of power, private control over public information, constant tracking and tracing and the Internet-of-Minds, they all need bolder solutions. The paradigm must shift from tackling one symptom at a time, to a proactive and anticipatory approach, where we keep asking question zero: what kind of society do we want to live in, and where does AI truly help us achieve that?
Catelijne Muller, Christofer Talvitie and Noah Schöppl wrote an article on the impact of AI on democracy for the well known and highly respected Verfassungsblog.