Technology arms races that are harder for democracies to win
China’s geopolitical strategic approach to AI has been one of the biggest themes in TiB
. As previously discussed, Ian Hogarth’s essay on AI nationalism (discussed here
) is indispensable on this topic. The crucial question is: if AI ends up being the
important strategic technology of the 21st century (as I believe it will be), do authoritarian countries have an advantage over democratic ones in developing it?
The argument is that authoritarian leaders can do bolder, longer-term planning and resource allocation - and that in AI, China in particular can commandeer vast swathes of personal data to train machine learning models that are just inaccessible in democracies with strong individual liberties. There may be a similar issue with genomics: authoritarian regimes may be able to take decisive but ethically dubious action that democracies cannot.
This seems a real concern to me - and at minimum calls for far greater coordinated investment in the US and Europe in key strategic technologies.
Technology that undermines the fundamental foundations of democracy
Finally - and while more remotely, also most profoundly - it’s possible that technology could alter the most fundamental building blocks of democratic society. If you believe the transhumanists
, inequality in the future may not be about wealth, but about species.
(If you get lost in some of the darker corners of political theory, it’s striking how much influence this idea has had on some of the advocates of Neoreaction
But you don’t even have to go that far. Are democratic nation states viable if wealth can be virtualised and moved into hard-to-tax, transnational blockchains? (I realise this seems a long way off, given the current state of the crypto market). This is one of the premises of the influential - if grossly overrated - book, the Sovereign Individual
(My British readers might be interested to know that the author is Jacob Rees Mogg’s Dad…)
These concerns might seem “far future”, but modern democracy is at least 200 years old and if want it to last another 200, we should be at least considering them.