The Good, the Bad and the Ugly in Technological Politics, Assessment Example
The twenty-first century has witnessed the radical upheaval of many industries and traditional organizations. Many of the contributing factors to this era of rapid change can be traced in whole or in part to the exponential growth of technology. Two main areas of technological growth that have directly influenced modern politics and government information and communications. The widespread and instantaneous availability of information, coupled with the interconnectedness of a modern global society has resulted in a climate that encourages diverse innovation and evolution in political and governmental systems all around the world. A survey of a range of articles gathered from a variety of news sources indicates just how profound the influence of technology has been on emerging issues such as surveillance, voting, legislating, and warfare in the first decades of the twenty-first century.
The following discussion will examine a number of articles that describe the merging world of “techno-politics” and will show, conclusively that opportunities for socially good and socially bad policies and actions exists in relation to each technological innovation. The collective impact of the technological influence on politics in the modern age is that creates an even stronger ethical imperative in terms of politics and government should be designed and operated. Additionally, the following discussion will show that the ethical and moral imperative that is raised by the inclusion of modern technologies in the political process also extends intrinsically to the creation of new technologies as a whole.
In other words, according to a number of leading thinkers and scientists, there is a potential for computer-generated artificial intelligences to enter into an antagonistic relationship withe their human creators and because of this potential, some kind of programmable ethics and morality must be developed over time to instill into the artificial intelligences that are created through technology. Although the idea of ethically-programmed artifical intelligence represents an extreme of the technological spectrum, many less-revolutionary advances, some already implemented, pose similar ethical and moral challenges in terms of the political realities of the twenty-first century.
David Meyer’s article “Finland is About to Start Using Crowdsourcing to Create New Laws” (2012) examines just one such type of innovation, “crowdsourcing” has been used for political purposes. The articles describes how, Finland, a policy called “Open Ministry” has been approved by the government. This policy, according to Meyer allows an Internet platform that “will act as a hub for citizens who want new laws voted on in the country’s parliament.” (Meyer, 2012, p. 1). What this means is that ordinary citizens in Finland now have the opportunity to actually propose legislation for the government to vote on. The ability for the electorate to directly influence the agenda of legislators is, obviously,a democratizing power.
However, looked at another way, the use of crowdsouring to influence legislation could be potentially problematic. Meyer points out that the threshold to secure the chance at a parliamentary vote, under Finnish law, is relatively low. According to Meyer, if Finnish citizens “can get 50,000 of their fellow citizens to back them up within six months, then the Eduskunta (the Finnish parliament) is forced to vote on the proposal.” (Meyer, 2012, p. 1). This means, of course, that while the populist agenda appears to have a better chance at being represented, the propensity for ‘clogging’ the parliament with both populist and specialist interests is raised. this fact shows, directly, the way in which technology and innovation of ten seem to hold a double-edge when being applied to politics. On the one hand, the Finnish use of Open Ministry greatly empowers the population; on the other hand, as previously mentioned, the same policy results in the possibilities for abuse and for legislative backlog are present.
Another example of the way in which technology is exerting a direct impact on the political process is the capacity to track political contributions on candidate by candidate basis and make this financial information freely available online. David Kravets’ article, “Who Bought Your Politician? Check With Our Embeddable Widget” (2012) explores the impact and potential impact of offering a “widget” that allows ordinary people the chance to track the financial dealings of their elected officials. According to the article, the widget is “web-based embeddable […] for anybody to use — that lists the top 10 donors and their contributions to any member of the House and Senate” (Kravets. 2012, p. 1). This application of technology, like that of crowdsourcing, would appear to be a voter-empowering tool. The most immediate and self-evident benefit would, of course, be the way in which such information could be used by voters to assess the policy-intentions of their elected officials.
However, seen from another light, the widget and the Wired staff and web-site that offer the widget are openly biased against the political system as a whole. The article quotes the Wired staff as affirming that “There is a correlation to politicians’ voting records and where they get their money.” (Kravets. 2012, p. 1). That said, such a general distinction ma y be true in many cases but it may not apply to specific candidates in specific districts or their challengers. Also, the sweeping declaration might also encourage some voters to belive that any special interest group or organization that has made a substantial contribution to one or more candidates is gaining an unfair advantage in terms of legislation or pushing a political agenda. In short, it might be the case that the widget will encourage voters to make a number of immediate, very cynical judgments about the interplay between money and public policy. while many of these judgments may be based in fact, it is also possible to overstate the impact of campaign contributors, collectively, and individually.
The influence of technology on voting practices is not only a subject that concerns influencing the way prospective voters feel about issues and candidates, it has to do directly with the way in which votes are received and counted. In terms of the voting process itself there is probably not a more controversial and timely topic than that of electronic voting. The article “E- Voting: Trust but Verify” (2012) by Schneider and Woodward . One of the main points of focus in the article is the failure of the U.S. to fully embrace electronic voting. Several advantages of electronic voting are referenced in the article. For example, the article remarks that, due to the availability of e-voting “voters can track their vote without providing a casual observer with the linkage [it] offers truly verifiable democracy.” (Schneider & Woodward, 2012, p. 1). This latter observation brings up one of the key controversies and most important issues in relation to electronic voting: the issue of vote-tampering.
Questions persist as to whether or not electronic voting makes voter fraud or even accidental vote miscalculation more likely. The practice of electronic voting has not yet become spread far enough throughout the United States, nor has it had a long enough history to be accurately compared to ballot-voting. Adherents of electronic voting actually advocate the use of the technology to keep a more accurate and fraud-free voting environment. Some other advantages to electronic voting are that it is quicker than ballot-voting, that it allows voting from a wider variety of places, and that it facilitates voter participation. These ideas are sound, but those who stand against electronic voting also make several important points in favor of their cases. The fist point is that, because there is no paper-trail for e-votes, it is harder to conduct a recount when necessary. The second point is that voters are not able to see any physical evidence of their vote in order to reassure themselves that they voted correctly. The third point is that the machines are vulnerable to electronic tampering and may also be prone to glitches which prevent gathering an accurate vote count.
As the preceding articles and associated ideas indicate, the connection between politics, the political process, and technology is stronger in the twenty-first century than in nay preceding historical era. One of the special concerns that is associated with this trend is the growing power and influence that technology has gained over the mechanisms of human society as a whole and the political systems in particular. The previously mentioned idea that technology represents a two-edged sword is nowhere more obvious than in the way that technology as whole always presents society with two outcomes. The first outcome is that an advance in technology brings about a greater capacity for any given area or need and the second outcome is tat, by providing a needed or desired capacity, the advance in technology causes people to become more reliant on technology. As this sequence repeats itself, the end-result is that human society exists in a precarious relationship to its own tools and technologies. Although greatly aided and empowered by technological advances, human society is also made more and more reliant on the ongoing presence of technology.
The balance between using technology and being dependant on it in such a way that creates an overall social vulnerability can be seen as a sub-text of all of the articles mentioned above. The same can be said for each of the controversial subjects that have been addressed so far in this examination of technology and modern politics. The issue of how to balance technology and human dependence is viewed by some observers as a moral question. Looked at in this way, one of the most cynical outcomes of human reliance on technology would, of course, be the overthrowing of human society by artificial intelligences. The idea that robots of machines might someday take over humanity is not only a plot-device for works of science-fiction, it is a potential reality that is acknowledged by scholars, including researches at Cambridge University. In the article “Killer robots? Cambridge Brains to Assess AI Risk” (2013) Zack Whittaker takes a look at the probability that advanced artificial intelligences, designed by human beings, might one day turn against their human creators. Such a proposition would ultimately stem from moral realities because it would be computers and AI’s who were programmed to mirror human traits of self-interest and power that would actually become malevolent.
In the article, Whittaker mentions that serious research into the proposition evidences that machines and AI’s need not be malevolent in order to become a threat to humanity. It is possible that such intelligences might simply decide human-beings were irrelevant. The author asserts that such an event would constitute a form of technological evolution that mirrored the biological evolution of humanity itself. According to Whittaker research into artificial intelligence suggests that “Just as humans have evolved and slowly taken over the planet…computer intelligence could mimic human evolution through the years at an accelerated rate.” (Whittaker, 2013, p1). The great danger here is, obviously, conveyed by the term “accelerated rate.” In other words, due to the tremendous power of computer intelligences, once an even basic level of self-awareness was achieved by artifical intelligences, an ensuing evolution of “consciousness” would take place on a very rapid scale.
While the prospect of self-aware and potentially hostile (or indifferent) machines may seem highly unlikely to the average person, the real-world risk that artificial intelligences and computers pose toward humanity is considerable. The potential discussed above for electronic voting machines to replace ballot-boxes is one very slight example of the way in which machines have gained an important power over their human creators. If we are reliant on computers for tracking our candidates financial dealings, researching legislation, and casting out votes the are democratic process will have to be rightly considered to have “gone electronic” and as such is now a government that requires technological support.
This idea corresponds not only to flights of imagination but to the real-world intelligence assessment statements of the various intelligence arms of the U.S. In the article “U.S. Intelligence Agencies See a Different World in 2030” (2012) Nicole Gaouette explores the way that global technological innovations along with changing environments and economies represents a fundamental shift in future politics. The article mentions that U.S. intelligence estimates “the end of U.S. global dominance, the rising power of individuals against states, a rising middle class whose demands challenge governments, and a Gordian knot of water, food and energy shortages.” All of these factors are revealed during a time when the increasing availability of information and communication make it to “empower the growing middle classes to make greater demands on their governments for services” (Gaouette, 2012, p. 1). this sea-change shows the volatility and double-edged paradigm that technology brings to every aspect of human life that it touches.
In final analysis, the recent surge in communication and information technologies provide for a more empowered electorate. This is the good side of technology and politics. the bad side is that which helps to enable the suppression of democratic processes and creates a weakness or vulnerability in the general populace relative to machines and technology. the ugly aspect of techo-politics is that, taken to an extreme, the over-reliance of humanity on technology might not only disrupt true democracy but result in the creation of machines that become hostile to humanity. Any over-reliance on technology must therefore be regarded as a threatening aspect to the modern age of politics as evidenced by the articles discussed above.
Gaouette, Nicole. “U.S. Intelligence Agencies See a Different World in 2030;” 12-10-12; Bloomberg.com; accessed 3-3-13; http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-12-10/u-s-intelligence-agencies-see-a-different-world-in-2030.html
Kravets, David. “Who Bought Your Politician? Check With Our Embeddable Widget” (2012).
Meyer, David. “Finland is about to start using crowdsourcing to create new laws” (9-20-12) www.gigaom.com; accessed 3-5-13; http://gigaom.com/europe/online-crowdsourcing- can-now-help-build-new-laws-in-finland/
Schneider, Steve and Woodward, Alan. “E- Voting: Trust but Verify;” 6-20-12. Scientificamerican.com; accessed 3-2-13; http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/guest-blog/2012/06/19/e-voting-trust-but-verify/
Whittaker, Zack. “Killer robots? Cambridge Brains to Assess AI Risk;” news.cnet.com; accessed 3-3-13; http://news.cnet.com/8301-11386_3-57553993-76/killer-robots-cambridge-brains-to-assess-ai-risk/
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