Saturday, 28 November 2020

Digital Democracies will be able to combine the best of all systems: Interview with DIrk Helbing

Digital Democracies will Be Able to Combine the Best of all Systems

Sofia, November 20 (Nikolay Velev of BTA)

Around the world, we are seeing the rise of different forms of technological totalitarianism but the future digital democracies will be able to combine the best of all systems: competition from capitalism, collective intelligence from democracies, trial and error, and the promotion of superior solutions, and intelligent design (AI), Dirk Helbing, a professor of computational social science, said in a BTA interview. He works at the Department of Humanities, Social and Political Sciences of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich and was among the participants in an international online conference on The Impact of Artificial Intelligence on Our Society hosted by Sofia on Friday. Following is the full interview:

Q: Prof. Helbing in your article Will Democracy Survive Big Data and Artificial Intelligence, you use Kant's famous quote "What is Enlightenment?": "Enlightenment is man's emergence from his self-imposed immaturity. Immaturity is the inability to use one's understanding without guidance from another." How far AI has its roots in the Enlightenment project? Would you give a short answer to the question you ask in the "Google as God?"
A: The problems of the world are complex. Some think we need superintelligent systems to help us understand and solve our problems. Some would go so far that such superintelligent systems will soon be around, and they would be so much superior to today's human beings that they would be similar to Gods, and we should just do what they say. This would mean to give up our autonomy and freedom. Control would be handed over to machines. While some consider this a utopian paradise, others see it as an dystopian future and ultimate threat to humanity.

Q: The big concern of many theorists and critics of industrial capitalism in the late 19th century and the first half of the 20th century was that men put a lot in their work and were paid too little for that, had a low living standard and existed merely as an appendix to the machine. With so much of the present-day forms of labor involving the virtual space, do you think man-machine relations have changed?
A: Companies use Artificial Intelligence and robotics to increase the efficiency of their production and reduce costs. As long as people have to pay taxes for their work and robots do not, this is a pretty unfair competition. It could get millions of workers in trouble. It is clear that we need a new tax system and also a new social contract so that future societies would work for humans (and robots would work for them, too). Currently, there is a danger of a race between man and machine, while the goal should be to create a framework for human-machine symbiosis. We still have to work on the political, societal and economic framework for this, and have to do it quickly.

Q: What, if any, is the threat for the modern man from having a digital copy of himself in the Big Data? What are the worst forms of misuse of this data and how far misuse can go?
A: Today, everyone of us is being profiled and targeted. It seems that every day many megabytes, if not gigabytes of data are being collected about us. This leads to highly detailed digital doubles, which reflect our economic situation and consumption behavior, our social network, our behavior, psychology, and health. Such data can be used to manipulate our thinking, emotions, and behaviors. It can be used to manipulate elections. It can be used to mob us and exert pressure on us. And it can be used for life and death decisions, as it happens in ethical dilemmas such as triage decisions. Most of such data uses today seem to happen without our explicit knowledge and consent. This is why I demand a platform for informational self-determination.

Q: You say that Big Data is "the oil of twenty first century, but people increasingly add that, apparently, we haven't invented the motor yet to use it". What do you think could be the motor and how the economy would change once we invent it and put it to use?
A: Some consider Artificial Intelligence (AI) to be the motor that runs on Big Data, the so-called "new oil". However, while many of us have an own car, most AI systems currently work for the interests of very few people only. I think that we would have to build something like a digital catalyst: a sufficiently open information ecosystem that everyone can easily contribute to and seamlessly benefit from. This would allow for combinatorial innovation.

Q: You quote a researcher claiming that AI can overperform the human brain by 2030 and all human brains by 2060. Is there anything in man that the machines cannot beat?
A: Big Data and AI neglect whatever cannot be measured well. This concerns human consciousness, love, freedom, creativity, and human dignity, for example. These are characteristics that matter a lot for humans. Therefore, I think that humans are not just biological robots. We should not confuse the two. Being confronted with intelligent machines will eventually show us what it really means to be human and what is special about us.

Q: You say that 90 per cent of the present-day professions are based on skills which can soon be replaced by machine algorithms or robots. If that many people lose their jobs, should we expect new social stratification based on virtual space? Do you see a risk for such possible stratification to bring about a repetition of some events of the 20th century?  

A: Such revolutions have typically brought serious societal instabilities along with them such as wars. A lot of people died on battlefields, because social reforms were lagging behind. If we are not smarter this time, such a situation could indeed happen again. This time, however, autonomous systems might decide about lives and deaths. Such deadly triage decisions would call the very foundations of our civilization in question. Triage means a war-like regime, in which human rights and human dignity are restricted so much that even the right to live is called in question.

Q: In your book Towards Digital Enlightenment: Essays on the Dark and Light Sides of the Digital Revolution, you use the term "digital fascism". Could you tell us how it differs from the traditional totalitarian ideologies in the 20th century and what new threats it brings for society?

A: Around the world, we are seeing the rise of different forms of technological totalitarianism. The Western variant is often called "surveillance capitalism", and people are treated according to scores such as the "customer lifetime value". In other countries such as China, a behavior-based "social credit score" determines the rights, opportunities, and lives of people, who are thereby turned into submissive subjects. These systems are characterized by a strange combination of a digitally enabled communism (command economy), feudalism (due to their hierarchical nature), and fascism (due to their suppressive nature). Typical elements of today's digital societies are: mass surveillance, experiments with people, behavioral manipulation and mind control, social engineering, propaganda and censorship, forced conformity, (predictive) policing, the interference with privacy and human rights, and the management of people similar to objects, ignoring human dignity.

Q: If fascism has become digital, what should be the resistance against it?
A: This is a difficult question, as nobody can really escape surveillance in the cyber-physical world of today. Avoiding digital devices and platforms does not seem to be a real option. Usually, politicians and courts should ensure a benevolent use of technology, but in view of "overpopulation" and "lack of sustainability", they seem to be losing control, as the "Corona emergency" and "climate emergency" show. Nevertheless, we need to ensure a fair use of AI that benefits everyone according to the principle of equal opportunities. Everything else is destined to fail, if you ask me. We are in the middle of a struggle with the old powers reigning the material, consumption-oriented, carbon-based energy world. We need to break free from the shackles of that era to enter a new age of peace and prosperity.

Q: Does global communication on Internet help or hinder democracy?
A: Both. Despite efforts to control global communication through algorithms, there is a lot of self-organization in the increasingly networked world we are living in. It is time to upgrade democracies with digital means, because empowering citizens and civil society is going to make our countries more resilient, such that they can better cope with the challenges ahead of us.

Q: Do we need an entirely new form of democracy today or we need to stand up for what the Western societies have achieved?
A: We need to develop further what we have achieved in the past. In fact, digital democracies will be able to combine the best of all systems: competition (capitalism), collective intelligence (democracies), trial and error, and the promotion of superior solutions (evolution and culture), and intelligent design (AI). Digital democracies will make our societies resilient to challenges and surprises, disasters and crises, by a combination of redundancies, diverse solutions, decentralized organization, participatory approaches, solidarity, and digital assistance supporting self-organization and mutual help.

NV Source: Sofia


Reprinted with kind permission from Bulgarian News Agency. Link to Post

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