15. Politics and AI

This page contains the opening portion of Chapter 15 of RAFT 2035.

Copyright © 2020 David W. Wood. All rights reserved.

15. Politics and AI

Goal 15 of RAFT 2035 is that parliament will involve a close partnership with a “House of AI” (or similar) revising chamber.


To restate the goal: politics will benefit from a close positive partnership with enhanced Artificial Intelligence.

Politics features both the strengths and the weaknesses of humans, writ large. When we sometimes complain that our politicians are stupid or selfish, we should remember that humans in general can be stupid and selfish – as well as, on occasion, being wise and selfless. The difference is in the degree of power that politicians can possess.

The dangers of power

Power tends to corrupt, warned Lord Acton, the nineteenth century historian and politician. Absolute power corrupts absolutely.  Power can corrupt the clarity of a politician’s thinking, and their sense of moral duty. It can lead them to forget their social ties to their fellow citizens. It can cause them to imagine themselves as being particularly worthy and deserving. It’s little wonder that initially admirable politicians often go downhill over time.

If power tends to corrupt, what is truly worrying is that never before have we humans held so much power in our hands. Science and technology are providing us with spectacular capabilities. We face the threat of unprecedented large scale surveillance and manipulation by forces seeking undue influence. This manipulation can be subtle rather than blatant. That’s what gives it greater power. New technology also strengthens those who would wield fake news and other black-art psychological techniques to frighten or incite people into making choices that are different from their actual best interests. All this raises the spectre of politicians taking and holding power more vigorously than ever before.

Checks and balances, under threat

In principle, what limits politicians from abusing power is the set of checks and balances of a democratic society: separation of powers, a free press, independent courts, and regular elections. The effectiveness of elections depends, however, on electors being able to see matters sufficiently clearly, and to assess scenarios objectively.

Too often, alas, we electors prefer to mislead ourselves into believing comforting untruths and half-truths. We prefer reassuring slogans over an awareness that matters are actually much more complicated in reality. We use our intelligence, not to find out what is the true situation, but to find rationales that justify whatever we have already decided we want to do. We tend not to care much whether these rationales and slogans are sound. We care more that these slogans bolster our self-image, and raise our perceived importance inside the groups of people with whom we seek to identify. That’s because we are, thanks to human nature, motivated too often by fear and by vanity.

Clever social media communications seek to push us into emotional reactions rather than careful deliberation. With our hearts on fire, smoke gets in our eyes. With our emotions inflamed, online interactions frequently propel us to champion tribal instincts. With a heightened sense of the importance of group identity, we cheer on pro-group “blue lies” rather than respecting objective analysis. Afraid of having to admit we were previously mistaken, we double down on our convictions, in effect throwing good money after bad. We may succeed in ignoring reality – for a while, until reality bites back, with a vengeance.

Two sets of tools are available to prevent us continuing to misuse our individual human intelligences:

  1. Collective intelligence, where people help each other to reason more thoughtfully.
  2. Artificial intelligence, with automated reasoning and data analysis.

Both these sets of tools will be deeply important in the years ahead. The tools interact, raising possibilities for faster progress. At the same time, we need to be aware that these tools are, in their own way, capable of bad outcomes too:

  • Collective intelligence can produce collective stupidity.
  • AI can help people and corporations pursue dangerous goals more quickly than ever before.

We’ll need to keep our wits about us!

The rise of AI

AI systems are quickly increasing in use around the world as decision support tools. For example, they provide support for medical decisions, legal reviews, assessment of credit worthiness, identifying the most suitable candidates for employment, and suggesting new partners for romance and intimacy. Software tools can highlight mistakes in spelling and grammar, awkwardness in style, and wording that is more likely to be effective for particular audiences. Software tools can also flag up instances of mistaken facts, questionable sourcing, and the likelihood that some material, such as a video, has been fabricated or manipulated from its original content.

Before long, AI and other decision support tools should be able to provide very useful analysis and validation of political statements, including legislative changes that politicians are proposing. AI could identify potential problems with legislation sooner, and suggest creative new adaptations and syntheses of earlier ideas. AI can also alert us when we are becoming tired, bigoted, or selective in our use of evidence, and can recommend more fruitful ways to continue a discussion. This AI, therefore, could help us to become, not only cleverer, but also kinder and more considerate.

However, AI systems are prone to various amounts of bias, misunderstanding, quirks, and other faults – some of which are very serious. People who use these tools sometimes put too much trust in them, without independently assessing their recommendations. Another risk, identified by writer Jamie Bartlett as “the moral singularity”, is that people will lose their ability to take independent hard decisions, through lack of practice, on account of delegating more and more decisions to AI systems. With atrophied moral intuitions, people will unintentionally become dominated by the moral decisions made on their behalf by machine intelligence.


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RAFT 2035 – a new initiative for a new decade

The need for a better politics is more pressing than ever.

Since its formation, Transpolitica has run a number of different projects aimed at building momentum behind a technoprogressive vision for a better politics. For a new decade, it’s time to take a different approach, to build on previous initiatives.

The planned new vehicle has the name “RAFT 2035”.

RAFT is an acronym:

  • Roadmap (‘R’) – not just a lofty aspiration, but specific steps and interim targets
  • towards Abundance (‘A’) for all – beyond a world of scarcity and conflict
  • enabling Flourishing (‘F’) as never before – with life containing not just possessions, but enriched experiences, creativity, and meaning
  • via Transcendence (‘T’) – since we won’t be able to make progress by staying as we are.

RAFT is also a metaphor. Here’s a copy of the explanation:

When turbulent waters are bearing down fast, it’s very helpful to have a sturdy raft at hand.

The fifteen years from 2020 to 2035 could be the most turbulent of human history. Revolutions are gathering pace in four overlapping fields of technology: nanotech, biotech, infotech, and cognotech, or NBIC for short. In combination, these NBIC revolutions offer enormous new possibilities – enormous opportunities and enormous risks:…

Rapid technological change tends to provoke a turbulent social reaction. Old certainties fade. New winners arrive on the scene, flaunting their power, and upturning previous networks of relationships. Within the general public, a sense of alienation and disruption mingles with a sense of profound possibility. Fear and hope jostle each other. Whilst some social metrics indicate major progress, others indicate major setbacks. The claim “You’ve never had it so good” coexists with the counterclaim “It’s going to be worse than ever”. To add to the bewilderment, there seems to be lots of evidence confirming both views.

The greater the pace of change, the more intense the dislocation. Due to the increased scale, speed, and global nature of the ongoing NBIC revolutions, the disruptions that followed in the wake of previous industrial revolutions – seismic though they were – are likely to be dwarfed in comparison to what lies ahead.

Turbulent times require a space for shelter and reflection, clear navigational vision despite the mists of uncertainty, and a powerful engine for us to pursue our own direction, rather than just being carried along by forces outside our control. In short, turbulent times require a powerful “raft” – a roadmap to a future in which the extraordinary powers latent in NBIC technologies are used to raise humanity to new levels of flourishing, rather than driving us over some dreadful precipice.

The words just quoted come from the opening page of a short book that is envisioned to be published in January 2020. The chapters of this book are reworked versions of the scripts used in the recent “Technoprogressive roadmap” series of videos.

Over the next couple of weeks, all the chapters of this proposed book will be made available for review and comment:

  • As pages on the Transpolitica website, starting here
  • As shared Google documents, starting here, where comments and suggestions are welcome.

RAFT Cover 21

All being well, RAFT 2035 will also become a conference, held sometime around the middle of 2020.

You may note that, in that way that RAFT 2035 is presented to the world,

  • The word “transhumanist” has moved into the background – since that word tends to provoke many hostile reactions
  • The word “technoprogressive” also takes a backseat – since, again, that word has negative connotations in at least some circles.

If you like the basic idea of what’s being proposed, here’s how you can help:

  • Read some of the content that is already available, and provide comments
    • If you notice something that seems mistaken, or difficult to understand
    • If you think there is a gap that should be addressed
    • If you think there’s a better way to express something.

Thanks in anticipation!

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