Will Democracy Survive Big Data and Artificial Intelligence?


We are in the middle of a technological upheaval that will transform the way society is organized. We must make the right decisions now.

In 2016 we produced as much data as in the entire history of humankind through 2015.

It is estimated that in 10 years’ time there will be 150 billion networked measuring sensors, 20 times more than people on Earth. Then, the amount of data will double every 12 hours.

One thing is clear: the way in which we organize the economy and society will change fundamentally. We are experiencing the largest transformation since the end of the Second World War; after the automation of production and the creation of self-driving cars the automation of society is next.

Everything will become intelligent; soon we will not only have smart phones, but also smart homes, smart factories and smart cities. Should we also expect these developments to result in smart nations and a smarter planet?

The field of artificial intelligence is, indeed, making breathtaking advances. Artificial intelligence is no longer programmed line by line, but is now capable of learning, thereby continuously developing itself.

Under the label of “nudging,” and on massive scale, governments are trying to steer citizens towards healthier or more environmentally friendly behaviour by means of a “nudge”—a modern form of paternalism.

The new, caring government is not only interested in what we do, but also wants to make sure that we do the things that it considers to be right. The magic phrase is “big nudging”, which is the combination of big data with nudging.

In a rapidly changing world a super-intelligence can never make perfect decisions (see Fig. 1): systemic complexity is increasing faster than data volumes, which are growing faster than the ability to process them, and data transfer rates are limited.
Furthermore, there is a danger that the manipulation of decisions by powerful algorithms undermines the basis of “collective intelligence,” which can flexibly adapt to the challenges of our complex world. For collective intelligence to work, information searches and decision-making by individuals must occur independently. If our judgments and decisions are predetermined by algorithms, however, this truly leads to a brainwashing of the people. Intelligent beings are downgraded to mere receivers of commands, who automatically respond to stimuli.

We are now at a crossroads. Big data, artificial intelligence, cybernetics and behavioral economics are shaping our society—for better or worse.

We are at the historic moment, where we have to decide on the right path—a path that allows us all to benefit from the digital revolution.

Source: Scientific American

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