A Shift Away From Democracy
Democracy has proven to be a successful government model up until this point. Lifespans have extended. Standards of living have improved. Advancement up the societal latter is now achievable through hard work. However, we are seeing the democratic foundations that propelled us into an age of prosperity begin to crumble. Presidential elections are being manipulated with increasing frequency. Nations across the globe are run by tyrants elected into office through their cults of personality. Yes, students of history may argue that autocratic governments have failed to compete with their democratic counterparts. That said, autocratic government is again emerging as a threat to Western democracy. Indeed, in the age of artificial intelligence, autocratic government may be necessary to attain global supremacy.
Centralized Data Accumulation
One of the more important predictors of success as a nation is technological capabilities. Technology has enabled territorial expansion and economic progress. The benefits of technology are enjoyed by the majority of those comprising the population of democratic nations. As artificial intelligence continues to develop, though, the benefits of the technology may be confined to those in control of data.
Any successful artificial intelligence is informed by vast pools of data. Populous countries like China are at a distinct advantage in capitalizing on artificial intelligence technology, as they have more citizens from whom they can collect data. Furthermore, China’s autocratic government has instituted widespread surveillance that further facilitates the accumulation of data. These data power China’s artificial intelligence systems, giving the Chinese government a technological edge over governments that enshrine privacy and liberty as core values. I am not suggesting that autocratic government is beneficial to a country’s citizenry. I am, however, suggesting that China’s autocratic government may be the first to achieve a technological breakthrough that positions it ahead of democratic nations.
Blurring the Lines between the Private and Public Sectors
In China, the lines between the private and public sectors are very blurry. It is no secret that Huawei and Alibaba both have the full power of the Chinese government behind them. This marriage between the private and public sectors has enabled Huawei and Alibaba to rapidly achieve enormous scale, though not without controversy. The US government has effectively blacklisted Huawei from its telecommunications market. Accusations of espionage and IP theft have prevented Huawei from becoming a competitive force within the US. That said, these companies enjoy government funding and connections that are instrumental in developing cutting edge artificial intelligence systems.
While large Chinese companies are tightly coupled with their government, US companies don’t all wish to engage in a similar relationship with Uncle Sam. High profile protests have erupted from within American technology companies in response to the companies’ partnerships with the Pentagon. Google, specifically, has been pressured to discontinue military sponsored projects. The company stated it will not renew its contract to build AI used to power military drones. Democratic nations have to balance the interests of governments, company employees, consumers, and the companies themselves. This delicate balancing act may result in the proverbial artificial intelligence ball being dropped. An autocratic government responsible to no one but a President with a lifetime tenure is far more light footed.
How to Stop the Shift to Autocratic Government
In years past, the force that has helped unify democratic nations has been a common enemy. While many US citizens have qualms about partnering with the military, we will lose our claim to the leader of the free world without such a partnership. Cohesion among and within democratic nations is necessary to combat the further proliferation and strengthening of autocratic government. While the US alone may not have a billion people, over 50% the Earth’s inhabitants live in democratic societies.
Further crystallizing these ties and working together on artificial intelligence and other technological advances is the only way in which autocratic governments like China can be stopped. The US has grown too comfortable atop its mountain of prior accomplishments. The fissures forming between our government and its people are being exploited. The trend towards isolation is going to bring about the demise of democracy. It’s not too late to break the trend, but democratic nations must find ways to reconcile their differences.
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