crookedshore

Technology and Democracy

How about this for a few degrees of separation.

The reputed Father of Russian democracy Boris Yeltsin died this week. His successor, Vladimir Putin, was responsible for quashing a pro-democracy march earlier this month organised by his opposition who have embraced street protest as a means of calling for change ahead of parliamentary elections later in the year.

One of those arrested and later released was Gary Kasparov, former chess grand master,

Almost 10 years ago to the day Gary Kasparov was left stunned when he was beaten at chess by the IBM computer Deep Blue.

Back then in 1997 scientists and ethicists pontificated over the possibility of sentient computer life which could develop emotional intelligence and eventually take over the world.

Earlier this week scientists and ethicists agonised over the possibility of sentient computer life which could develop emotional intelligence and eventually take over the world. Only this time the scientists and ethicists were debating whether we needed to consider extending legal rights to computers, including the right to vote in a democracy. How about that then?

Now I’m not sure what the Doctor would say to all this. Did you see last Saturday’s cliffhanger finish – the Daleks have turned into human daleks, complete with spats and pinstripe suits. Seems like we can’t get enough of the nightmare of technology turned dangerous.

Last week the nerds and geeks were queuing up to soothsay on the future of technology. Could one be created which could develop a mind of its own? Could we build a computer which could think and reason for itself and learn from its mistakes? Could a robot really flip a microchip and overturn our carefully created democracies? What if they didn’t need us any more, could they cast us aside as an archaic irrelevance?

Now the Christian in me is beginning to get a sense of deja-vu at this point. There’s something vaguely familiar here.

Ah yes! Now I remember, the creature thumbing its nose at the Creator.

I wonder if our anxiety over these things, and the terror of countless Hollywood flicks, finds its root in some shadowy, unidentifiable remembrance buried deep in the human psyche. A sense of guilt perhaps, for initial rebellion in casting off the constraints of what we judged to be an inadequate creator, and for setting a pattern of revolt that has been repeated through the ages. Maybe the world hasn’t changed too much since Adam and Eve.

Anyway, on the issue of extending the vote to robots, my mate says he wouldn’t worry too much about it because democracy won’t die even if the daleks got the vote. But what does he know? He’s a muppet.

[BBC Radio Ulster Thought for the Day, first broadcast Friday 27 April 2007]

the original ending was

"Anyway, on the issue of extending the vote to robots, my mate says he
wouldn’t worry too much about it because democracy won’t die.. After
all, he says, even if the daleks had the vote in western democracies,
we’d still end up with muppets. Good morning."

But I was asked to change it because in the current climate in Northern Ireland, with the imminent re-establishment of a power-sharing Executive of erstwhile enemies, the editor thought it might be misunderstand. Imagine that, I could have undermined democracy in NI in a thought for the day about undermining democracy.

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