The Good, The Bad, and The (Very) Ugly of AI in Politics
As we get ever closer to true AI, the voices raising concerns against its potential dangers are growing louder as well. Influential individuals from diverse fields, like Elon Musk, Bill Gates and Nick Bostrom all caution against the risks of AI overtaking humans.
Politics is probably the last arena where these brilliant minds would want to see the deployment of AI! At its core, politics is about acquiring and utilizing power – to decide the fate of citizens, the economy, the social and political structures, and more.
Bringing an intelligent machine capable of advanced recursive self-improvement carries a Pandora’s box worth of risks. But we are still decades away from the creation of such strong AI. But even in its “narrow” avatars, AI in politics is certain to be a double-edged sword.
The Good – Vast Potential for Improved Policy-making and Governance
Governments and bureaucracies all over the world are blighted by lack of efficiency and transparency to varying degrees. Policies crafted on the basis of incomplete or erroneous data are doomed to fail or even make things worse than before.
Policymakers also fail to adequately factor in all the potential consequences that could happen from a particular policy. China’s infamous One Child policy resulted in a lot of human suffering, as well as a disastrous gender imbalance. Enactment of Prohibition in the USA resulted in the rise of organized crime syndicates on a scale never seen before.
These are some of the more extreme examples of myopic policy-making. AI, with its amazing ability to convert vast tranches of raw data into meaningful information and insights, has untold potential in governance. It can eliminate ignorance and uncertainty that plagues government agencies and policy agencies – the benefits would be profound and transformative.
The Bad – Impact on Elections in Democracies
The Cambridge Analytica scandal from 2016 perfectly encapsulates how big data and technology can be leveraged to impact the working of elections in democracies. Elections are the bulwark of the Western liberal democracies – they give legitimacy to governments by giving the citizens the freedom to choose their representatives.
But when AI is used to target susceptible voters with manipulative political ads, it will have a negative impact on the legitimacy of elections. The situation is made worse by the potential for external intervention. In 2020, reports already indicate that Russia and China are using online tactics to influence the US Presidential elections.
There is huge potential for a positive impact of AI on democratic processes. Candidates can use it to analyze data and create better agendas and manifestos that aim to solve the problems of the public. But unfortunately, given the winner-take-all model of electoral politics, shortcut promised by misuse of AI may prove irresistible to many.
The Ugly – AI Deployment in Authoritarian Regimes
Authoritarian regimes like China have a huge advantage over democracies when it comes to deployment of technology in various fields. Due to the absence of any political checks and balances, the ruling elite can freely wield cutting edge technology to further their interests.
Politics in such systems is based on forcing compliance and removing any opposition or resistance. In a surveillance state, AI can be used to monitor the activities of citizens and even identify “subversive” political activists and future dissidents. And China is not alone in this – recent reports indicate that 75 nations across the globe are actively using AI for surveillance of their citizens.
The challenges posed by climate change, over-population, and global inequality has raised the political stakes across the world. And AI technology is evolving at a very sensitive time in human history.
AI is not an evil technology on its own. It has the potential to solve a lot of humanity’s most pressing problems. But this is an era where politics looks uglier than ever before. In the present scenario, we can only hope that the positive effects of AI in politics overtake or outweigh the negatives.