Author: Mark Dowd
While present-day politics is as tumultuous and chaotic as it’s ever been, there’s one consistent force that we can all count on – the continuing progress of technology. If you consider the changes that have occurred since the industrial revolution almost no aspect of our lives has remained untouched by technological innovation, this innovation has also had drastic effects on the economy and many sectors of government. One sector, however, has not been affected – Politics. Within just a few years, driverless cars will be flying the streets in great numbers, multilingual artificial intelligence programs will take over many customer service roles, and algorithms chewing over the massive amounts of data we emit will manage everything from our day-to-day health to the optimal hour in which we should eat and sleep. Robots are becoming more advanced (thanks to recent advances in computing and AI) and less likely to trip over themselves, and gene editing may trigger a seismic shift that starts with the treatment of disease and could easily end up with the transformation of humans themselves.
At the moment, it is comforting to imagine that the machines will mostly be complementary to human workers, whose common sense and ability to utilise their general intelligence we say will still be necessary in the complex workplace, but while we are probably still a very long way from an AI with human-like general intelligence, we are much closer to a world where particular machines can perform specific tasks as well as humans and at far less cost, the exact type of change that occurred 150 years ago – during the industrial revolution… Long before we find ourselves dealing with malevolent AIs or genetically engineered superhumans, and maybe just 10 to 20 years from now, we will have to deal with the threat technology poses to our social order—and to our politics.
It’s difficult to estimate how severe the upcoming disruption will be, according to a comparative analysis carried out in OECD countries nearly 50 percent of the jobs in the United States are at risk of automation.
When new technologies transform the economy; wages decrease, and displaced workers compete with those already employed for available jobs. We can see this effect around us now. Conventional economics suggests that low unemployment drives wages up, but that’s not happening this time: Despite very low unemployment of just 4.1 percent in the U.S., average earnings are growing at an unusually slow pace. Low pay might discourage companies from automating away as many jobs as technology might allow—for a time, but it also would lead to a lot of people giving up the job search. Technology would then allow a small percentage of uniquely skilled people and well-positioned firms to do phenomenally well, pushing inequality to unprecedented levels.
This world, in which technology is improving rapidly and great wealth is being created, but a large share of working-age adults are not strictly necessary to keep the economy running at full capacity, is one in which unparalleled prosperity should be attainable. Automation of critical tasks in medicine, for example, should dramatically reduce the cost of healthcare while improving accessibility and the quality of treatment—at the expense, however, of vast numbers of jobs.
Politicians’ instincts will be to focus on bringing back lost work rather than allowing people to do less—much like recent populist politicians, including U.S. President Donald Trump, have promised. If governments were to go down this route it would almost certainly only serve to exacerbate an already worrying problem.
To manage the disruption caused by these drastic changes, governments will need to provide more benefits directly, and the overall level of redistribution might need to rise considerably. Meanwhile, we will be faced with a social crisis, as people search for purpose and for ways to spend their time, and as countries fight over which people should bear the cost burden of providing for others. There is no way around it, our governments will have to transform dramatically from their current state in order to deal with these challenges. Some problems we’ll have to face within our current system of government are nepotism, inefficiency, corruption, and low voter turnout.
So, I posit the question, would it be better if an AI ran every aspect of our government? Would an AI which is benevolent and controlled through a system of direct democracy i.e. voting through the blockchain be preferable to the current state of things? If we replaced our current representatives with members of the general public picked off of the street would it make a significant difference or would the government still function much the same?
While many of us think of an AI taking over as a doomsday scenario, only seen in movies. In many ways it might be a significant improvement over the current, comparatively inept, humans we have in government today.
So let’s look at the ways in which an AI might potentially cure the many malaise’ of society.
With an AI in charge of the civil services, workers would almost certainly be hired based on skill level and proficiency – a meritocracy; the days of little Jimmy’s mother or father sneaking him a place in the office would be over, all hiring practices would be standardised and highly documented, any aberrations would be detected by said AI and the hiring practices investigated. Of course, these changes would have to happen gradually and it would be almost impossible to entirely eradicate nepotism but it should still be possible to reduce it significantly.
This may be the most impactful of the areas affected by AI, we all suspect governments are hugely inefficient when dealing with revenue and the outsourcing of contracts but would an AI be any better? Take a look at my country’s government, they formed a new body – Irish Water, a now defunct branch into which more than €2bn has been poured, would this have happened under a direct democracy where the majority of people were ardently against the establishment of an institution that would charge for water? I don’t think so. Would an AI have listened to the will of the people? Under a direct democracy, it would have had no choice but to.
Every nation suffers from corruption, though the extent differs wildly from country to country, what if an AI could predict which areas of government are most prone to corruption and offer suggestions as to how to improve it? Well, it’s beginning to look like it could do just that, with AI models already being trained for exactly this purpose we may see this technology implemented in the near future.
Low Voter Turnout:
If you could vote from the comfort of your home, would you? I know I would.
We hear a lot of talk about blockchain being used in areas such as finance and currency as referenced with Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. We also hear a lot about it being used in healthcare, smart contracts and personal identification, among other areas. One additional, cutting-edge space where blockchain is being considered is elections. How many people don’t vote because they can’t get to the polls? If we look at the Irish general election two years ago, over 35% of the electorate failed to vote, it’s even worse abroad with 45% of the U.S. failing to vote in their last presidential election.
With blockchain technology people could use the internet to vote, this could dramatically increase participation from the electorate. Admittedly, implementing a system such as this would be costly and significant investment into security would be needed, but once achieved it would almost certainly increase the proportion of the population that is active in politics and could be one of the most positive things to happen to a democracy in any country.
You may be thinking “All of this sounds awfully dystopic.”, but the world in which we live is in many ways comparable to classic dystopias such as 1984, though today’s world is in many ways stranger than Orwell could have imagined, the surveillance state is rife and doublethink is prevalent in some of the most prominent political offices in the world. If you think all of this sounds outlandish, you may be in for a surprise.