Automation and Autocracy: IoT and the Future of Democracy

Hannah Sloan
May 18 · 6 min read
Illustration: © IoT For All

When AI Reinforces Authoritarianism

Most of these concerns stem from existing threats. For example, many are worried about automation’s impact on empowering authoritarian leadership, enabling autocratic regimes to more effectively surveil their citizens. This is indeed an important concern: as the January 2019 issue of the Journal of Democracy reports, artificial intelligence (AI) plays a significant role in the Chinese crackdown on the Uyghur minority group in Xinjiang.

Image Credit: Chicago Tribune

The Hypocrisy of Digital Democracy: Data Ownership

Many are also concerned about the effects of exclusive community-building platforms that claim to “digitize” democracy. The biggest example right now is the Italian Five Star Movement, a populist political party which removes the principles of representative democracy in favor of “fully direct” democracy, arbitrated by an online platform called Rousseau.

Image Credit: Wired

Does Automation Reduce the Incentive to Democratize?

With automation comes economic change. Research shows how this kind of economic change can impact countries’ transition to, or from, democracy. The economic transformations caused by technologies like the Internet of Things (IoT) could fundamentally change our understanding of political participation.

Image Credit: Middle East Institute

Looking Forward: Automation as a Tool of the Powerful

What does this mean for the future of democracy? The argument made by Gandhi and others is that elites’ access to resources like oil makes paying off political opponents easier, and allows authoritarian regimes to co-opt the general population through cash transfers and other programs. It’s possible that ownership of data and capital (the inputs and outputs of automation) will be the next frontier of what has always been seen as the benefit of natural resources.

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Expert analysis, simple explanations, and the latest advances in IoT, AR/VR/MR, AI & ML and beyond! To publish with us please email: contribute@iotforall.com

Hannah Sloan

Written by

Project Manager @Leverege | Staff Writer @IoTForAll | 2018 @Venture4America Fellow

IoT For All

Expert analysis, simple explanations, and the latest advances in IoT, AR/VR/MR, AI & ML and beyond! To publish with us please email: contribute@iotforall.com