What Would Happen If We Let AI Vote?

The following was previously published in an earlier edition of Media Insider.

In his bestseller “Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow,” Yuval Noah Harari writes that AI might mean the end of democracy. His reasoning for that idea comes from an interesting perspective: how societies crunch their data.

Harari acknowledges that democracy might have been the best political system available to us -- up to now. That’s because it relied on the wisdom of crowds.

The hypothesis operating here is that if you get enough people together, each with different bits of data, you benefit from the aggregation of that data.

Theoretically, if you allow everyone to vote, the aggregated data will guide the majority to the best possible decision.

Now, there are a truckload of “yeah, buts” in that hypothesis, but it does make sense. If the human ability to process data was the single biggest bottleneck in making the best governing decisions, distributing the processing among a whole bunch of people was a solution. Not the perfect solution, perhaps, but probably better than the alternatives.



As Winston Churchill said, “democracy is the worst form of government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time." So if we look back at our history, democracy seems to emerge as the winner.

But the whole point of Harari’s book is to look forward. It is, he promises, “A Brief History of Tomorrow.” And that tomorrow includes a world with AI, which blows apart the human data-processing bottleneck: “As both the volume and speed of data increase, venerable institutions like elections, parties and parliaments might become obsolete -- not because they are unethical, but because they don’t process data efficiently enough.”

The other problem with democracy is that the data we use to decide is dirty. Increasingly, thanks to the network effect anomalies that come with social media, we are using data that has no objective value, but is simply the emotional effluent of ideological echo chambers.

This is true on both the right and left ends of the political spectrum. Human brains default to using available and easily digestible information that happens to conform to their existing belief schema. Thanks to social media, there’s no shortage of this severely flawed data.

So if AI can process data exponentially faster than humans, can analyze that data to make sure it meets some type of objectivity threshold, and can make decisions based on algorithms that are dispassionately rational, why shouldn’t we let AI decide who should form our governments?

Now, I pretty much guarantee that many of you, as you’re reading this, are saying that this is BS -- that it means humans surrendering control in the most important of arenas.

But I must ask in all seriousness, why not? Could AI do worse than we humans do? Worse than we have done in the past? Worse than we might do again in the very near future?

These are exactly the type of existential questions we should ask when we ponder our future in a world that includes AI.

Our hubris in believing we’re the best choice for being put in control of a situation is no coincidence. As Harari admits, the liberal human view that we have free will and should have control of our own future was really the gold standard. Like democracy, it wasn’t perfect, but it was better than all the alternatives.

The problem is, there’s now a lot of solid science that indicates our concept of free will is an illusion. We are driven by biological algorithms that have been built up over thousands of years to survive in a world that no longer exists. We self-apply a thin veneer of rationality and free will at the end to make us believe that we were in control and meant to do whatever it was we did.

What’s even worse, when it appears we might have been wrong, we double down on the mistake, twisting the facts to conform to our illusion of how we believe things are. But we now live in a world where there is -- or soon will be -- a better alternative, without the bugs that proliferate in the biological OS that drives us.

As another example of this impending crisis of our own consciousness, let’s look at driving. Up to now, a human was the best choice to drive a car. We were better at it than chickens or chimpanzees.

But we are at the point where that may no longer be true. There is a strong argument that as of today, autonomous cars guided by AI are safer than human-controlled ones. And if the jury is still out on this question today, it is certainly going to be true in the very near future.

Yet we humans are loath to admit the inevitable and give up the wheel. It’s the same story as making our democratic choices.

So let’s take it one step further. If AI can do a better job than humans in determining who should govern us, it will also do a better job in doing the actual governing. All the same caveats apply.

When you think about it, democracy boils down to various groups of people pointing the finger at those chosen by other groups, saying they will make more mistakes than our choice.

The common denominator is this: Everyone is assumed to make mistakes. And that is absolutely the case. Right or left, Republican or Democrat, liberal or conservative, no matter who is in power, they will screw up. Repeatedly.

Because they are, after all, only human.

3 comments about "What Would Happen If We Let AI Vote?".
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  1. Ted Mcconnell from Independent Consultant, May 7, 2024 at 1:36 p.m.

    If the glue that holds society together is rule of law, then how do you hold AI accountable? Until computers and their networking components become accountable, I would say that they should not participate in democracy. They do anyway, by shaping our opinions, as you say,  that is always(?) at the behest of their human masters who somehow escape accountability completely for the clandestine shaping of opinions to bend populations to their will.  We call it advertising. :). 

  2. Marty Bender from Worst Consultant Ever, May 7, 2024 at 1:59 p.m.

    I've occasionally thought that we should let computers draw fair, balanced, and proportional congressional districts. Then let the best man or woman win. And how about we let computers pick the members of the Supreme Court. Give me nine people with law degrees that have a long history of unbiased decisions/rulings.     

  3. John Grono from GAP Research, May 8, 2024 at 4:55 a.m.

    Gord, following on your statements on driving, I eagerly look forward to AI Formula 1, and a refreshed AI NASCAR series etc.   What a heavenly picture that paints.

    Marty, you make very good points about congressional districts.   A three-round stoush between AI and Eldbridge Gerry would probably solve all sorts of issue in around 10 minutes.   SImple.

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