If you’ve ever contemplated AI's messy reality and political nature, the interplay of technology with society and the impact of AI on democracy, we have a conversation for you.
As AI rapidly expands, it has sparked numerous discussions and debates. One theory is that AI is inherently political. This viewpoint is advanced by Mark Coeckelbergh, a philosopher who believes that AI can change how we live together and thus should be treated as a political issue. Coeckelbergh contemplates AI’s messy reality and political nature in an episode of Pondering AI. We'll examine why he believes AI is political and what this means for society.
We usually think about technologies as tools, instruments and things we use for goals. It could be political goals. But in fact, when we use technology, we do much more. We are actually influenced by the tool we are using.
When we use technology, Coeckelbergh says, we are influenced in ways we may not even be aware of. Take social media as an example. It can influence what we think, what we buy and who we look up to. And often, on social media, there are unintended consequences. For example, Coeckelbergh says that when a social movement uses social media to convey a message, the algorithms behind the platform can spread news internationally, often in ways the original poster has no control over. As a result, unintentional consequences can have a tremendous impact on society.
“So you might initially use social media to push your message,” Coeckelbergh said, “but then the recommender systems and all the operational stuff that has to do with the algorithms, how they work, is going to spread your message globally and change many things. And that's not completely under your control. So the technology has all these effects – non-intended effects.”
Furthermore, Coeckelbergh believes AI has the potential to influence elections and alter social connections, making it a political weapon.
[AI tools are] political because they change how we live together. They are also political in the narrow sense of influencing elections. But they also really change the relationships in society. And so, in that sense, it's non-instrumental and political.
AI systems can influence human behavior in ways we are unaware of. For Coeckelbergh, this is a primary ethical concern. To complicate matters further, we may only sometimes fully comprehend the consequences of our actions involving AI. This is where political philosophy comes in, providing a framework for understanding and debating these concerns.
Coeckelbergh believes political philosophy can help us have more sophisticated talks about AI. Concepts such as freedom and prejudice are frequently used in these conversations, but their implications are often overlooked.
Take the example of bias in AI systems. When someone claims that an AI system is biased, we may not know what they mean, and we don’t necessarily understand the full implications or why that bias is problematic. Coeckelbergh explains: “Whether something is biased – and even if it is biased, whether that bias is problematic or not – it's very much a political question. And what political philosophy can contribute here is saying, well, these different theories of justice exist. And with these theories of justice, we can clarify what exactly is wrong with this bias. And, yeah, I think through making more explicit and outlining the arguments, one can have a more profound discussion with other people.”
In other words, political philosophy provides a more refined framework that allows more careful consideration of these complex topics. So the next time someone says AI is prejudiced, we can use political philosophy to understand better why that bias is a problem and how we can address it.
That's what political philosophy can do, that it can give us more of a refined framework to have these discussions and also move on to better understand what's going on, and then also to better articulate when arguing for one's position.
The interplay of technology and society is a complex topic that requires careful consideration. Coeckelbergh's view of AI highlights the importance of understanding AI’s impact on society. Using political philosophy to frame the discussions, we can better understand the ethical issues and start working toward creating a better world.
As AI becomes more important in our daily lives, Coeckelbergh asks us to think about it through a political lens. He believes using political philosophy can help guide discussions and provide a framework for addressing the issues that arise.