Progressives and Artificial Intelligence


An irony can be found underlying progressive opposition to artificial intelligence.

Kim Kalunian interviews Brown Computer Science Professor Michael Littman, who is skeptical of Elon Musk’s dire warnings of a future with artificial intelligence (AI) but isn’t entirely sanguine about the technology:

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Littman has other concerns. Artificially intelligent software isn’t just powering robots. It’s used in search engines and on social media sites. Algorithms that take data and make decisions based on it. Littman says it can be a slippery slope.

“AI is also making decisions on things like whether or not you’re going to get a bank loan,” he explains. “It’s making decisions about whether or not you’re going to be shown a certain job ad. It’s making decisions about, you know, if you’re arrested and a judge is trying to decide how long you’re going to be in jail, it’s making suggestions about that.

“All of these are informed by data. These systems can optimize for the wrong thing. They can be optimized or for more justice like we’ve seen in the past and if that justice is biased in any way, it will perpetuate that justice,” he says.

A quick distinction, here:  On the job-ad example, the market should work.  Job-finding software that doesn’t place people in happy circumstances will fail.  Things are different when the algorithms are producing decisions enforced at the point of a gun, as with a judge’s rulings.

The real danger of AI, in other words has its origin in the progressive idea that it is possible for some sort of formula to pick the “right” direction.  If we’d just give experts the authority to make decisions for us, the thinking goes, they could guide us all to Eden on Earth.  AI is just a super-smaht expert technology, which some would even credit with lacking humanity’s bigotries and irrationality.

That raises the irony of legislation mentioned in Kalunian’s article:  that its earliest champion in Rhode Island is far-left progressive Democrat Aaron Regunberg from Providence (by way of Brown University):

“The concern would be that if smart public policy is not keeping up with these technological shifts, are we going to be in a situation where folks can be harmed by decision-making processes that use criteria that may not be right or sensical or proper?” says Regunberg.

Reading between the lines, Regunberg wants to make sure the decisions made by AI are appropriately skewed to advance progressive policy ideas whatever the science might suggest.  Musk’s warnings could be seen as a promise of eternal ideological domination if progressivism is programed into the machines.

No doubt, regulating AI will also prove to have the benefit (from progressives’ perspective) of protecting a bunch of high-income, white-collar special interests from the automation wave.  Obviously, lawyers would be notable among them.

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  • Rhett Hardwick

    I think progressives harbor the same opinion about AI that they do about immigrants “there is a Democrat inside, just waiting to get out”

    Seriously, relying on AI to make “decisions” which require judgment is dangerous. It can’t “”look you in the eye”. Believing that only “fact based” decisions, excluding judgment, are necessarily superior is similar to the current belief that “information” is “knowledge”. AI is well suited to repetitive manufacturing tasks (while still quite limited) we should advance beyond there with caution. For instance, what would an algorithm make of the “fact” that Gen. MacArthur’s mother went to West Point with him. What to make of that is a “judgment” question.

    • Mike678

      An AI could be a good progressive. All you need to do is feed it garbage data and deny it the ability to assess any outcome.