Will Democracy Survive Big Data and Artificial Intelligence?

In a comprehensive Scientific America article (first published in German in  Spektrum der Wissenschaften) an number of leading European data and privacy researchers make a strong case that with the digital revolution in full swing Western societies are at a crossroads and need to act and put a normative framework in place to avoid an “automated society with totalitarian features. In the worst case, a centralized artificial intelligence [that] would control what we know, what we think and how we act.”

They see the advances of Big Data and Artificial Intelligence causing a risk for society to fall back into what D. Helbing calls Feudalismn 2.0. At the same time those new technologies also provide an opportunity for an advanced pluralistic and open society with collective intelligence. For the latter the right of the individuals to control their personal data and the democratization of artificial intelligence are 2 basic requirements.
This is exactly the larger context for BitsaboutMe, when we empower the individual and diversity of decision making.

The authors warn of  “big nudging” a slow but continuous process where individual decisions are subtly influenced by filtered information. The kind of “echo chamber” effects when individuals are presented their personalized version of reality filtered by an algorithm, which leads to “fragmentation and possibly even a disintegration of society”.

Some might argue that a “wise algorithm” will ultimately make better decisions than collective humans, but there are a couple of problems with this approach:

  • The system complexity is growing fatster than both data volumens and processing powers making central decision making increasingly inadquate
  • Also a super intelligence can make mistakes, lie or be manipulated
  • There is no way to determine the best goal function.

The authors therefore urge to adhere to the following fundamental principles:

  1. to increasingly decentralize the function of information systems;
  2. to support informational self-determination and participation;
  3. to improve transparency in order to achieve greater trust;
  4. to reduce the distortion and pollution of information;
  5. to enable user-controlled information filters;
  6. to support social and economic diversity;
  7. to improve interoperability and collaborative opportunities;
  8. to create digital assistants and coordination tools;
  9. to support collective intelligence, and
  10. to promote responsible behavior of citizens in the digital world through digital literacy and enlightenment.