Why Technology Favors Tyranny


The emergence of liberal democracies is associated with ideals of liberty and equality that may seem self-evident and irreversible. But these ideals are far more fragile than we believe. Their success in the 20th century depended on unique technological conditions that may prove ephemeral, says Yuval Noah Harari, author of the new book, 21 Lessons for the 21st Century.

The biggest and most frightening impact of the Artificial Intelligence revolution might be on the relative efficiency of democracies and dictatorships, he writes for The Atlantic:

Historically, autocracies have faced crippling handicaps in regard to innovation and economic growth. In the late 20th century, democracies usually outperformed dictatorships, because they were far better at processing information. We tend to think about the conflict between democracy and dictatorship as a conflict between two different ethical systems, but it is actually a conflict between two different data-processing systems. Democracy distributes the power to process information and make decisions among many people and institutions, whereas dictatorship concentrates information and power in one place. ….However, artificial intelligence may soon swing the pendulum in the opposite direction. AI makes it possible to process enormous amounts of information centrally. In fact, it might make centralized systems far more efficient than diffuse systems, because machine learning works better when the machine has more information to analyze.

“If you dislike the idea of living in a digital dictatorship or some similarly degraded form of society then the most important contribution you can make is to find ways to prevent too much data from being concentrated in too few hands, and also find ways to keep distributed data processing more efficient than centralized data processing,” Harari adds.

“These will not be easy tasks. But achieving them may be the best safeguard of democracy.”


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