The real threat posed by Artificial Intelligence (AI), is not that we will lose appreciation for humans, become mindless slaves to artificial humans, but that governments – others and ours – could use AI to control what we can see, believe is true, and thus our lives. Caution is warranted.
While many worry AI will “think for itself” and feed humanity bad information, take over systems that put us out of business, the real threat may be simpler: Use of AI by governments to control everything from truth and travel to medical access, digital currency, law and energy.
Government – those who control it, from the inside out – are about the exercise and, too often, the amassing of power. As an ancient voice – the British historian Lord Acton – once said: “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
The prime concern should be keeping AI and related technologies private, non-monopolized, and accountable, which means not allowing the government to use them against The People. Put differently, if we give to government the authority to control our reality through AI, we give away liberty itself.
Notably, the same Lord Acton – prolific and prescient – wrote: “Authority that does not exist for Liberty is not authority, but force,” adding “despotic power is always accompanied by corruption of morality.” In other words, unaccountable authority produces a coerced, immoral world.
Unfortunately, a government monopoly on information – and the shaping of reality – would amount to unaccountable authority, and all that follows.
While this concern might sound like science fiction, it lately has become more palpable, worth focus. What the Twitter, Facebook, and high tech crowd has shown – based on recent revelations – is that putting high tech in the hands of government, or turning it submissive, is dangerous.
The real issue may not be lifelike androids or autonomous power wielded by AI, or even human-aping by computers, but the ability of governments “foreign and domestic” to extinguish democracy with AI, gaining an irreversible upper hand on information and our life decisions.
Another great – Sir Francis Bacon – more than 400 years ago observed: “Knowledge is power.” If what we define as knowledge – accurate, reliable, time-tested information – is somehow controlled by government through AI, to serve government interests – we face a rude awakening.
By way of example, if so-called “woke” thinking, remaking our culture overnight with crazy, ungrounded, anti-moral ideas rooted in ideological passion (and foreign influence) is bad enough – imagine what a swarming of life with fakeness, use of AI by a governments might look like.
The real concern for AI is not the technology itself, any more than the onset of cars, telephones, television, computers, or guns was innately moral or immoral. The key is who is using them, when, and to what end.
In an era of strategic misinformation, when leaders seem content to ignore or undermine rule of law, permitting disrespect for law enforcement, when government sought the power to say what was “true information,” when questions resurface about election processes, access, and integrity, the public can be blinded by what is later shown to be false. We are best served by vigilance.
Notably, our Founding Fathers urged “limited” – not expanding – government. They constantly questioned the integrity of the process and men who make it go – all of them. They did this to protect the People’s rights and sovereignty. We are doubly in need of guardrails now, with AI.
More government control of AI – not regulation but the power to use it – is a bad idea. This is arguably the main thing deserving of focus on AI in the years ahead.
Used well, AI may help individuals and liberty expand. Used badly – and we have seen a lot of bad judgment by government lately – it could have the exact opposite effect. Caution is the watchword.
Robert Charles is a former Assistant Secretary of State under Colin Powell, former Reagan and Bush 41 White House staffer, attorney, and naval intelligence officer (USNR). He wrote “Narcotics and Terrorism” (2003), “Eagles and Evergreens” (2018), and is National Spokesman for AMAC.