- Date published:
9:00 am, May 9th, 2018 - 36 comments
Categories: China, community democracy, Deep stuff, democracy under attack, democratic participation, facebook, internet, interweb, Politics, twitter - Tags:
When the Minister for Information Technology finally appoints a Chief Technology Officer I want them to address the risk to our democracy from algorithms.
If we follow the natural flow of algorithmic logic in the modern world that we inhabit, we are going to see the scope of ordinary analogue politics of real leaders in central and local government elections shrink to something so small and inconsequential to our behaviour that we head straight out of autonomous citizenship.
If anyone has today used used Uber, Google, Facebook, Baidu, Twitter, dating sites, a credit card, or Trademe, bought an air ticket or a train ticket, used eftpos, swiped an airpoints card, or looked at the internet on your phone, you’re currently inside an almighty set of largely unregulated algorithms that describe you better than you know yourself.
And when that perpetual identity about me gets in the hands of a central government, such as China, there’s no chance democracy will emerge.
iThis steady transfer of autonomy is not inevitable, and it is not destiny. We shape it before it shapes us. Policy leaders and business leaders can develop and deploy systems the way they want according to institutional needs. The government has just set up a cheerleader group for perpetually greater digital access.
But my question is: does that group of cheerleaders know that they aren’t promoting a utility like a road; they are promoting a form of ever-more pervasive control from which there is no return?
Only a year ago the previous governments’ MSD Minister was continuing to proudly boast that they were transforming the lives of social welfare recipients with the “investment approach” of intensive algorithmic analytics.
Fortunately the new government has rejected that.
It is within our power to cast privacy nets around sensitive areas of human life, to protect people from the harmful uses of data, and to require that algorithms balance predictive accuracy against other values such as fairness, accountability, and transparency. Those values are absent in governments who have oversight over corporate and public algorithms.
Maybe we need to be louder about rejecting the anti-democratic mature of meritocracy which is inherent in analytic-based distribution. It’s reminiscent of Daniel Bell’s “The China Model” and Zhang Weiwei (back in 2012) who have already started to speak that unspeakableness to English-speaking audiences.
Liberal democracies like ours are of course highly unlikely to ever shift to such a system. Unlikely in our legislature, at least, but those algoriythms fully guide our lives in every other sphere involving choices, entertainment, public or private services, or products: in 95% of our lives. For example in the public realm it is not yet clear what will replace the full data collection and life-mapping of the previous
government as a result of the new social security legislation going through Parliament now.
Though as the Minister for the Security Intelligence Services Andrew Little noted a month ago, some algorythmic grounding is always necessary because our threats are real and they are growing.
If such trends in business and consumer culture continue, we might soon have a culture more in common with Chinese meritocratic and communitarian traditions than with our own history of individualism and liberal democracy, in all but Parliament and City Hall.
China is using is spectacular data capture and its algorithms to form a totalising population wide societal purity programme in which you get points for doing heroic and kind acts, and a negative social credit rating for everything from spitting to jaywalking. That’s where this goes folks.
If we want to change course, we will have to put our own political imperatives before those of our technologies.