Artificial intelligence is advancing rapidly, bringing promise of increased efficiency and progress across many sectors. However, the continued growth of powerful AI also poses significant risks if deployed irresponsibly or for nefarious purposes. As citizens, we must remain vigilant of how governments seek to leverage these emerging technologies, whether to centralize control or manipulate public opinion.
While AI tools can help process huge datasets to uncover insights, patterns, and efficiencies, they can just as easily be abused by those in power. We’ve witnessed throughout history how governments encroach upon civil liberties once new technologies grant them increased reach and influence. State exploitation of mass surveillance and data collection has already eroded privacy rights in the digital age. So we must ask: how might unrestrained development of artificial intelligence further jeopardize individual freedoms?
Governments maintain monopoly power over citizens through force, and they routinely seek to expand the scope of their authority. Should we not find it concerning if public officials utilize AI systems to more effectively monitor populations, subsidize preferred narratives across communication channels, or automate content generation to deceive?
Emerging techniques of “social media manipulation,” “targeted messaging,” and even AI-generated “influencers” demonstrate how the practice of state propaganda could rapidly advance to new levels of personalization and precision. The ability to analyze citizens’ digital footprints, psychological profiles, and behavioral data will equip propaganda architects to craft highly customized messaging down to the individual level. Mass persuasion and perception control will occur through models of asymmetrical, AI-enabled information warfare.
Make no mistake: while foreign adversaries are undoubtedly developing these AI capabilities, our own government agencies will not be left behind. After all, what institution of power has ever voluntarily reduced its influence?
Runaway domestic spending and institutional bloat within nearly all federal agencies demonstrate that the state has no shortage of desire to grow. Weaponized applications of artificial intelligence will simply grant another means to that end.
We need not wonder *if* governmental AI systems will infringe on civil rights, but rather *how* to limit their unavoidable overreach. Otherwise, as AI-powered propaganda becomes more sophisticated and personalized, our freedoms of speech, expression, and thought may be effectively suppressed or manipulated.
— Amp America (@AmpAmericaNews) January 26, 2024
What policy measures or technological counterbalances should free societies implement to safeguard political autonomy in the looming age of hyper-advanced information warfare? Constitutional constraints likely prove no match for the overwhelming force of algorithmic persuasion built upon troves of our personal data. Sure, “benevolent authorities” might pledge restraint in the name of “public interest” or “national security.” But experience teaches us to judge by actions rather than words. Because power rarely stays dormant once it is been gained.
Rather than hastening the development of technologies certain to augment state control, what if we explored applications of AI to instead decentralize and localize decision-making? The same machine learning models used to concentrate authority could also disseminate it by enabling more direct forms of governance. So I ask again: through what systems, structures, or safeguards might we harness AI to empower individuals rather than further subjugate them to government rule?
The twenty-first century has seen rapid technological innovation. Thus far, this exponential pace of change has outpaced the evolution of the legal frameworks and ethical guidelines intended to govern emerging capabilities. Because of this, existential questions still remain about who and what ends guide the path of technological progress.
Unchecked growth of powerful systems like artificial intelligence, absent principled boundaries, primarily empowers those already in control. And imprudent application of such tools appears to be one manifestation of one broader truth: centralized authority, in its ambition to manage complex modern societies, often breeds technocratic oppression. Perhaps we should view AI not as an isolated trend, but rather as symptoms of deeply rooted civic ailments.
This means we have to look at the first principles all over again to find solutions, or other ways of running the government that respect human rights and freedom. Institutional overreach cannot be countered through argument or protest alone, but instead through displaced systems of control. We must look beyond policy reform to more foundational remedies.
Rapid gains in computing processing speed multiplies the power of code. Thus, technological change introduces opportunities to redefine not only economic or commercial activity, but also the so-called social contract underlying political authority. Because of this, we should honestly inquire if new digital technologies could allow for new ways for people to organize themselves, such as through coordinated action or automated management based on voluntary exchange rather than force.
Might advances in information systems soon render elements of the managerial state obsolete? If so, we should eagerly explore how technology might shift governance from centralized to decentralized. For it is concentration of power itself that warrants vigilance, not any single application or capability.
Artificial intelligence will unlock immense potential for both creation and destruction. It remains seen whether rapid gains in knowledge and productivity might outweigh expanded means for tyranny. But minimally, this intensifying fusion of governance with advanced technology spotlights the precarious nature of individual liberty absent meaningful constraints on institutional rule.
The long arc of history reveals plenty of remorse for missed opportunities to plant seeds of freedom. So, in the midst of the current technological transformation, let us strive to cultivate systems that promote human emancipation rather than coercion. Few societies are able to make the transition from being bonded to being free. It is time to put the power of control back where it belongs: in the hands of every citizen.