System Rivalry: How democracies can compete with digital authoritarians


Artificial intelligence (AI) already has been a game changer in favor of authoritarian states. AI-enabled tools have turbocharged every pre-existing form of repression including: mass and targeted surveillance, censorship, and the spread of propaganda, says Eileen Donahoe, Executive Director of the Stanford Global Digital Policy Incubator. 

The larger threat posed by AI-enabled technologies is that they are facilitating the spread of digital authoritarianism: an encompassing techno-social system and governance model that involves control and security for the state as opposed to liberty and security for citizens, she writes for Just Security:

Rather than view the challenge as a series of discrete apps used for repression, democracies should see digital authoritarianism through the lens of system rivalry and recognize that they face competition from a powerful, repressive governance model spreading around the world……Domestic practices, international norms, and technology innovation and standards are intertwined with digital governance systems. The strength of the digital authoritarian model stems from the fact that these elements are working in tandem. Democracies must recognize these interdependencies and demonstrate leadership in all three realms, simultaneously and in a coordinated fashion.

The tech practices we showcase in our domestic context, the norms for which we advocate in international tech fora, and the investments we make in emerging technologies and democratic information infrastructure will be mutually reinforcing, adds Donahoe, a board member of the National Endowment for Democracy (NED). If this complex set of tasks is embraced and tackled with the sense of urgency and purpose it deserves, a prosperous, secure democratic future can be solidified. RTWT

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