Dec. 1, 2023

How will government and politics be transformed by technology?

Published May 13, 2023, 7:14 p.m. by Monica Louis

In the digital age, government and politics are being transformed by technology. The way we communicate, the way we interact and the way we make decisions are all being shaped by the ever-evolving world of technology.

As our lives move increasingly online, so too does our political activity. From the way we engage with our representatives to the way we campaign and vote, technology is changing the way we do politics.

The internet has opened up new channels for political engagement, giving citizens a direct line to their elected representatives and making it easier than ever to have your say on the issues that matter to you.

Social media is also playing an increasingly important role in politics, with platforms like Twitter and Facebook providing a direct link between politicians and the public. These platforms are being used to break down barriers, engage with constituents and build support for policies and parties.

technology is also changing the way we campaign and vote. The use of big data and sophisticated targeting techniques is giving campaigns a new level of precision, while online platforms are making it easier than ever to reach large numbers of people with your message.

The way we finance politics is also being transformed by technology. The rise of crowdfunding and online donation platforms is making it easier for individuals to support the causes and candidates they believe in.

technology is having a profound impact on the way we do politics. From the way we engage with our representatives to the way we campaign and vote, the digital age is changing the way we do politics.

You may also like to read about:

good evening everyone and thank you for

coming to today's event how will

government and politics be transformed

by technology I'm Gavin free guard

program director here at the Institute

for government where I lead our work on

data and digital government and I'm very

much looking forward to talking to Jamie

Siskind about this excellent book future

politics future politics is currently

difficult to know what the future of

politics will be at the end of the next

news cycle let alone the end of the week

but tonight's conversation looks beyond

the next defection the next legislative

amendment or the next brexit deadline to

the fundamental changes that future

technology could make to our politics

and to government this is one of those

rare political discussions where the B

word will not be brexit but blockchain

some housekeeping first and if you want

to use some current technology to share

your thoughts on tonight's event we're

using the hashtag IFG digital and we're

live tweeting from at IFG events those

of you in the room can get onto the

Wi-Fi using the details behind me

the network is IFG guessed the username

is IFG although a case and the password

is visitor also although a case we are

live streaming this event so hello to

those of you watching us online and that

also serves as a reminder that today's

event is on the record video and audio

will be available afterwards advances in

technology are daily transforming the

way we live and how we interact with one


changes in how we gather store analyze

and use data where the government or big

tech companies are profoundly changing

our politics and our society but and I

quote we are not yet ready

intellectually philosophically or

morally for the world we are creating we

aren't ready for our politics to be

dominated by questions of digital

control over our lives we haven't

adapted to a world where the digital is

political that very broadly is the

argument made by Jamie in this book

future politics living together in a

world transformed by tech jamie is an

author speaker and practicing barrister

he's a past fellow of the birkin Klein

Center for Internet

xiety at Harvard and as previously

worked in politics for Tony Blair and

Miliband and the late Senator Ted

Kennedy so Jamie's going to take talk

for about seven minutes or so about the

book and how government and politics

will be transformed by technology will

then carry on the conversation for a

short while and then it will throw it

open to questions from you in the

audience we'll wrap it at about 7:00

p.m. and you'd be very welcome to join

us after that for drinks nibbles and

book signing afterwards you'll be able

to find a copy on sale for this special

discounted rate of 15 pounds for one

night only so make sure you take

advantage of it so that further adieu

Jamie well Gavin thank you and thank you

all for coming out on this cold evening

to talk about the future of politics I

just want to start with a few stories to

let you know what I'm going or where my

thinking comes from I want you to first

of all start by imagining that you're

taking a drive in a self-driving car for

the first time and you are late and in a

hurry or perhaps it's an emergency and

you need to get to the hospital and you

ask that vehicle to go over the speed

limit just for a moment as you might do

if you are controlling it but the

vehicle refuses in fact it doesn't even

go up to the legal speed limit it stops

at say 50 miles an hour because that's

the rule that's been programmed into it

or say you want to park that vehicle

illegally just for a moment while you

dash into the hospital on a double

yellow line or say you want it to take

you to somewhere that it's GPS systems

tell it would be trespassing but the

vehicle refuses to do so on all

occasions now imagine a different

example in fact a real-life example

which is Amazon one of the biggest and

most sophisticated tech companies in the

world for five years Amazon used a

machine learning recruitment system in

order to recruit people to work at the

company and will perhaps talk a little

bit more about machine learning systems

as the day goes on but essentially what

Amazon did was it gave this system data

from the past data about who its most

successful employees were and data about

the character

mystics and qualities of those employees

and said scan the Seavey's of applicants

in order to find the qualities which

suggests in the past that would make a

successful career at Amazon the

difficulty was that for reasons which

were not good reasons the previous 10

years at Amazon had been a largely

male-dominated work culture and so when

this machine learning system reached its

conclusions the conclusions were then

actually the best predictor of being a

successful employee at Amazon was being

a man which meant that if your CV said

the words women's football team rather

than just football team or had the name

of an all-girl school or women's

university it would go to the bottom of

the pile now that was a system that was

in fact used by Amazon for some five

years now I want you to ask yourself if

you've ever done one of the following


have you ever streamed something whether

it's music or an episode of telly

illegally online using an online website

that you shouldn't have used have you

ever jumped on and off a bus with

without paying a fair have you ever paid

someone cash in hand knowing that tax

wouldn't be paid on that money and have

you taken more than your fair share at a

self-help buffet or self helps system in

a restaurant or in Nando's or the like

three quarters of British people or

there abouts admit to doing one of these

things I sometimes call them mini crimes

but they are in fact just crimes and the

reason most people have done them and

it's a bit like driving over the speed

limit or parking on a double yellow is

that in a free society or a free ish

society there is this hinterland at the

edges of the law where you're allowed to

get away with minor transgressions

without being punished every time and

certainly without being caught every

time but of course in a world where

digital rights management technology is

so strong that only the greatest hackers

can illegally stream an episode of Game

of Thrones your option to do that mini

crime is taken away as it is when you're

in a world of smart wallets and your

ferrars automatic

deducted when you could jump on the bus

you can't pay someone cash in hand in a

cashless economy and you can't take more

than your fair share at the self-service

station if the distribution of whatever

it is is regulated by face recognition

technology if you go to the public

facilities and beijing's temple of

heaven park and try to use toilet paper

there you'll find that you're helping

there is in fact regulated by face

recognition technology because I had a

problem with people taking too much

that's that technology is becoming

cheaper and cheaper final example over

the summer last year in Britain ear in

Britain our system was developed which

was said to be able to pass the exam to

become a royal a member of the Royal

College of General Practitioners with

82% accuracy as against 71% of the

average human successful candidate this

is a chatbot so it's a system to which

you can ask questions in natural

language and it responds in natural

language and this is a system which can

therefore answer medical diagnostic

questions in English as well as or

better than human doctors and I want you

to imagine a world in which the

participation of bots on an online

political discourse is not limp is not

limited to the repetition of slogans

like hashtag lock her up or hashtag make

America great again but systems that are

are equal or are superior in political

knowledge and rhetoric and width and

what future there is for human beings in

a world where discourse itself

deliberation that aspect that sits at

the heart of democracy or at least has

been perceived to since Athens it but

done better or done more extensively

than but digital systems than it is by

us what all of these stories have in

common it is that I say that they are

matters of politics those who write the

code who write the rules like with the

self-driving car have a form of power

over us they can get us to do things we

wouldn't otherwise

do and not to do things we would

otherwise have done those who set the

limits of what we can and can't do with

their technology is like the face

recognition technology or online

platforms which dictate what can and

cannot be said on their forums they have

a set the limits of our limited out of

our Liberty to currying what may be done

and what is forbidden chatbots

colonizing online discourse affects

democracy and the algorithms that

distribute jobs around society 72% of

human Seavey's are no longer read by

human eyes are dealing I say in

questions of social justice just like

the algorithms that distribute health

insurance mortgages loans or determine

the length of your prison sentence or

where policing resources are directed

power freedom democracy and justice are

not peripheral to politics they are the

heart of it and I think we risk with our

focus on the next news cycle rather than

the next even the next economic cycle

the next life cycle failing to notice

that we are in a time of change which

could be as profound for the way that we

live together as the agricultural

revolution or the invention of script

and every time in human history that

there has been a big change in the way

that we process store and disseminate

information there have been big

political changes as well for example

it's not a coincidence that the very

first human empires stretching over

large territories arose very shortly

after the invention of writing or the

earliest forms of writing but was here

the - there hadn't been the forms of

information storage that were capable of

sustaining a human bureaucracy if to use

an anachronistic term it couldn't be

done in a world of pure orality so the

changes in the technologies of

information and communication prompted

political changes I believe we might be

living through such a time just now and

so what I try to do in the book is I

take these concepts power freedom

democracy and justice

and ask what do they mean in the past

what do they mean today and crucially

what might they mean in the future Henry

Ford who brought the automobile to the

mass market used to say that when he

asked people what they wanted they would

tell him that what they wanted was

faster horses and I think too much of

our thinking about the future of

politics as faster horses thinking we

imagine it'll be like today but just a

little bit shinier a little bit sleeker

a little bit faster but actually we

could be moving into a period that is as

profoundly different from today's

politics as the car was from the horse

that preceded air so that's the basic

thesis of the book there are lots of

alleyways and byways that it goes down

in pursuit of that thesis but the

overall theme is that the digital is

political that the big question of the

last century is no longer the big

question of this century in the last

century the question was what should be

done by the state and what should be

left to the market and civil society

that was the fundamental political

question of the 20th century it divided

left from right and it divided the

eastern hemisphere from the Western

Hemisphere in our time I suggest the key

question will be this to what extent

should our lives be governed by powerful

digital systems and on what terms and

that requires analysis of where those

systems are owned where they are

controlled whether in the private or the

public sector and the rules and the

regulations and the morals and the norms

that govern them and I don't think we're

anywhere close to having a system that

is a sophisticated intellectually

philosophically and morally as it is

technically which is why I write the

book thank you very much so how do we

get society in general and those

politicians specifically beyond that

faster horses thinking I mean how do we

get people to grasp the enormity of the

changes that you have lying in the book

well my my tony was to write a 500 page

book that no one will read and of course

there are different ways of approaching

it I I don't shrink from the fact that I

think that what we need what we're

really talking about here is a

generational change in perspective and I

sometimes think a little bit about

climate change I think about the way

that we used to think about climate

change or global warming maybe as we

called it 20 or so years ago and I think

it was something perhaps which we were

all peripherally if not centrally but in

in in in wide society peripherally aware

of as a political issue but it wasn't

necessarily something that we took into

account when we chose our own behavior

on a day to day basis or indeed our

political behavior who we voted for and

the like and now I think it's fair to

say that even though it's not accepted

as conventional wisdom it is at least at

the forefront of a lot of political

debates in the developed world and

that's just something that's changed and

it can't be done by one person it can't

be done by one book it can't be done by

one politician it has to however start

with the recognition that this time is

different that digital technology is

different from anything that's preceded

it and I don't find that a particularly

difficult argument to make we generate

as much data now every two hours as we

did from the dawn of time until 2003 and

that rate is growing exponentially such

that by next year there'll be three

million books worth of data in the world

for every human being on the planet

artificial intelligence systems can now

beat us at almost every game we've ever

devised in circumstances were even the

top software engineers ten years ago

would have said it was absurd that they

could beat a human being at go let alone

thrashing grandmasters in the manner the

google deepmind's systems can now do we

we are distributing technology into the

fabric of the world around us in a way

that it's never previously been so the

1980s well within the the lifetime of

many of us in this room a computer was

the size of a room and if you wanted to

program it as Professor flurry D says

you had to walk inside and use a

screwdriver for most of us the key

paradigm compute for computing has been

the keyboard and the mouse

the screen that sits in front of us in

the last few years maybe since about

2009 which I suppose is now 10 years ago

perhaps the principle paradigm has been

what is called the glass slab this is

the main way that we interact with

digital technology but in the future it

won't be in the very near future we'll

have systems that are not just more

capable but there are integrated into

the fabric of the world around us in our

appliances and utilities and objects and

architecture in our public spaces in the

form of smart cities and in our private

spaces in the form of smart homes these

are not I say insignificant changes but

as long as we learn to look at them as

citizens rather than just as consumers

we can actually begin to see the really

this this time could be different and

this could quite profoundly change the

way that we live and in particular the

way that we live together so the you

sort of suggested that the sort of

political realm is quite different from

the economic realm in some of this and I

said one of the big issues that we've

seen just in the last few days is around

certain social media companies being in

the news I'm thinking with the Digital

Culture Media and Sport Select Committee

report yesterday looking into how some

of those companies that we use data and

where it fits into fake news I mean

where does that where do those sort of

tech giants who are not state actors fit

into this sort of picture well I think

they're really important because again

to use the faster horses analogy we tend

to think of politics today are these

capital P politics as revolving around

places like Parliament or legislatures

or congresses political parties

assemblies and the like but to my mind a

lot of the real politics these days is

taking place in the big tech companies

they are the ones who are taking

decisions that shape our collective

future many of them in a more direct way

than the politicians who seek to

regulate and govern them so they're

absolutely central to the future and

what's unusual about our time is that we

have these private sector entities these

tech companies that have acquired an

extraordinary amount of power over us

and III believe willing acquire more

power if something doesn't change and

that power I think takes three forms one

is the form that I already described

which is the ability to write rules that

the rest of us have have to follow like

the self-driving car example the second

form of power they have is to gather

data about us the more that it the more

that someone knows about you the easier

it is to get you to change your behavior

which is the basic rule of psychology is

the basis of all online advertising it's

increasingly the basis of all political

advertising as well which is why it said

that Cambridge analytic I had I think

was 5,000 data points for 200 million

different Americans allowing them to

tailor their political message to each

individual person not just on a

county-by-county basis which had

previously been the Holy Grail but on an

individual basis such that the political

ad you saw might be different from the

political ad of the person who shares

your bed with you and that relates to

the third way in which tech companies

increasingly have power the ability to

get us to do things we wouldn't

otherwise do which is by controlling our

perception of the world we all of us

every one of us rely on third parties to

tell us about what's happening in the

universe beyond our immediate perception

we don't have that information and in

the past we relied on humans and

journalists and the like exclusively and

authors and more recently television or

radio presenters to tell us what was

happening out there but increasingly we

rely on technologies to rankin sort what

as importance to tell us what is true

and false right or wrong real and fake

and of course we've seen how that can go

wrong when the information that we're

given is either highly partial or highly

dubious in terms of its factual content

but it also matters which slice of the

world you are presented with you could

see a news feed that is entirely true

and I can see a news feed that's

entirely true and yet our perception of

the world could just be entirely

different based on those news feeds

because they might just presents

different information based on what the


are underlying them perceive us to find

it interesting and attention-grabbing

and so between those three abilities the

ability to write rules the ability to

gather data and the ability to control

our perception those are all the three

pillars of how political power has ever

been exercised throughout human history

and increasingly those powers are

congregating in the hands of those who

own and control digital technologies and

those technologies are becoming vastly

more powerful and vastly more ubiquitous

so that the tech firm as a political

entity is an entirely new development if

you can human affairs and one which for

which we barely have the language to

describe it which is why people are

always like our Google's a state or

Googlers like a state of course it's not

a state or even like a state the fact

that they both wield power doesn't mean

that the same thing our concepts of

precision of our language hasn't yet

evolved to describe these key but

sometimes difficult differences so I

think they're massively important what

should government do about that and some

of the potential accesses which you

again lay open the book in you you've

discussed already this evening well it's

an understandable question to ask you

know the Institute of government what

should government do and the answer I

think down the line is quite a lot I

think there will have to be structural

reforms to prevent tech firms from

acquiring too much power of the kind

that I just described I think there will

have to be transparency reforms which

allow us or civic minded individuals to

understand what is happening inside tech

firms that make decisions that are of

political significance whether it's a

social justice which a democracy or to

freedom you know that just chimes with

the old Republican principle that you

shouldn't live under powers that you

don't understand and over which you have

no control so down the line we're going

to have to devise legislation and

regulation that meets those challenges

and Europe I think is that the continent

which is doing the best job of it so far

you know the GDP are the general data

protection regulation affords us an

enormous amount of more protection over

the use of our data than our brothers

and sisters in the United States for

instance or or elsewhere

and that's not insignificant but money

kind of bugbear is that a a lot of

politicians don't properly understand

the technologies which means that the

decisions they might make might be ill

informed it might be bad public policy

be too many of the issues are

politicized so the fact that for

instance fake news in the manipulation

of social media is so closely associated

with people who object to the brexit

result or object to the the election of

Donald Trump

it's just inherently problematic I'm not

saying it's wrong it's just problematic

because it means that the likes of a

Donald Trump or the likes of an ardent

brexit ear are unlikely temperamentally

to support legislation or regulation

which changes that because they feel

like it's an assault not just on a

technology but on what they perceive to

be a well one victory and see I don't

think we yet have and this is why the

book is actually a book about political

theory I don't you think we yet have the

concepts and the ideologies and the

ideas and the level of sophistication in

the debate which should precede

government passing laws and regulation

governments are going to charge in and

regulate and legislate and in some cases

it will make it better in some cases

that will make it worse and I do think

we need to act quickly but I think

there's an enormous amount of

intellectual legwork that needs to go in

first where we set out the principles

the concepts and the ideas and the lines

of debate and the lines of ideology so

that every time we propose a new piece

of regulation or law to regulate tech we

we can immediately fit it within a

conceptual framework that we understand

we have that for instance with economic

policy or with education policy you can

say oh yes that fits broadly with a

socialist agenda or yes that fits

broadly with a marketization agenda but

we don't even really have those terms

when it comes to regulating the tech

sector and so I think that you know

there is a job for Policy beetball for

academics for lawyers to generate that

language you're talking the book as well

about the sort of last few centuries of

sort of Western liberal democracy

there's been a sort of D magic ation or

disenchantment about the kind of

spiritual idea

that perhaps dominated a sort of early

modern Europe and politics there and

need to become much more about rational

observation now we seem to be heading

back to the magic because even if you've

got transparency around the data

transparency around the algorithms as

you said some of this stuff is quite

complex yeah how do we tackle that I

think that's a really good and difficult

philosophical question the context in

which I raised it in the book is that

Max Weber the 19th century sociologists

political theorist talked about and

there's no direct English translation

above it as you say the Dima defecation

of the world which is that a lot of

things human beings used to ascribe to

powers and entities and forces beyond

their control and beyond their

comprehension so something couldn't be

explained you'd explain it by reference

to the stars of the spirits or the gods

and at that point in human history vapor

observed you know we we can become

pretty good as actually seeing the world

as a more rational and scientific place

where things could be explained by a way

of cause and effect and it is certainly

true that I think the world that we're

moving into is one where it is very very

hard for most of us to understand the

technologies that we are going to be

increasingly surrounded by whether how

profound a change it is depends on a

number of factors you see for instance

many of us in the room wouldn't be able

to describe how a calculator works but

we know what a calculator does and we

can test it's working by putting in

calculations to which we already know

the answer to check that it is doing

what it is supposed to do

the difference between a calculator and

say a machine learning algorithm is that

the code inside the latter can be

obscured to us either because it's kept

in a black box commercially so we're not

told what it is but even if we were able

to open the black box we wouldn't be

able to understand it and read it like

we can read the page of a book at

likewise the data that is fed into it

so there is this risk I think and in

many ways it might be an unavoidable

risk to what you have is a very small

class of people in society who are

actually capable at

given time of understanding and

explaining a technology to a reasonable

extent although I you know I I did this

I spent some time in Harvard and I went

to see one of the machine learning

engineers they're a really top professor

and he showed me a system which he

developed where a machine was able to so

he had a screen in front of us and it

was a picture of a road an image of a

road as with a car driving down there so

they've been a camera strapped to the

top of a car and just writing back a bit

in the human eye because of the delay

that's and I'm not expert in this but

I'll explain to you as it was explained

to me because of the delay caused by

light shining into our eyes and then

being processed by the brain in terms of

our vision we predict the next

microsecond of what we see before we see

it and then the brain corrects for it if

what you actually see turns out not to

be what you see because otherwise you'd

always have this lag in your vision so

you try to create a machine learning

system that replicated that so what you

had on the left sided screen was the

actual process of the car driving around

the corner and what you had on the

right-hand side of the screen was this

machine learning system which had been

trained to predict the next microsecond

and it was interesting comparing the two

and they were very very very similar

just like the human brain is very very

good at predicting what you're about to

see before you see it the reason I tell

that story is because I said to him well

how does that work and he said you know

what I'm not entirely sure and that's

just one application of a machine

learning system now you might say well

actually if you can't that's all very

well for that in the lab but if you have

a system like that that's for instance

distributing social things of social

value around society and algorithm or

messing with the democratic process you

might say as a matter of principle if it

cannot be explained and it cannot be

explained accurately then it has no

place in the public sphere even if it

might look as if it can do something

better or more efficiently I think that

would be a justifiable principle of

legal or political philosophy that where

a decision-making entity cannot be

justified or explained it should not be

put to use

just one final question from me before I

throw over to the audience and we've

talked quite a lot about the sort of

threats so far the technology phases and

you also talk in the book about some of

the opportunities particularly firms

that have come out with in new forms of

democracy that might help adapt to some

of these problems and sort of face some

of these problems I wondered if you just

wanted applying some of that yeah

although when I tend to talk about the

potential new forms of democracy that

people tend to find them horrifying as

well so I'm not sure if although given

the week we're having I sort of feel

like now more than ever the argument

holds way that this isn't what we

currently have is unlikely to be the

final and best form of human

self-government if ever we were tempted

to think that it was let's just look at

it this way I've already talked about

the potential challenges that the

automation of deliberation could pose to

the way that we talk about politics

having to interact with bots and the


one of the things I think is going to

emerge over the next few years and this

isn't a particularly new concept is its

demands for direct democracy now you

already are hearing populist leaders

asserting that actually the only truly

democratic decision is one in which the

people have voted directly and we're not

a million miles away

technologically from a system in which

if we wanted you could swipe left or

swipe right on your phone five or 10

times a day on matters of public policy

in your local or national area and I'm

sure you can think of arguments in for

and for and against such a system I

think the key point is that for the last

couple of thousand years is not even a

debate we've had to have because

advanced political societies are so big

and complicated that it's never been

possible to get all the people together

to vote on every issue that's why we

have representative democracies but I

think in the next few years that are

that will no longer hold I think it will

be perfectly feasible if we wanted to

for all of us to be able to vote on

everything all the time and so we're

gonna have to do some hard thinking

about how much democracy is too much

democracy how much democracy is the

right amount it's at stage 1 stage 2 it

would be strange I think

in a world where there's three million

books worth of information for every

human being on the planet

say that the system which best

represents the people is one which

relies on a tick in a box every five

years or four years choosing between

four or five different options wouldn't

surprise me if Democratic theorists

began to argue that actually a truly

representative democracy is one which as

a matter of institutional philosophy

takes into account the data that is

actually out there about our lives

now obviously governments use data when

they make policy but it's a kind of

public policy choice I think the next

argument will have to wrestle with is

whether not to do so is actually in some

sense undemocratic or illegitimate for

some other reason then there's the

question about what role artificial

intelligence should play in the

governance of human affairs now we

already trust a is to diagnose our

cancers which they do for skin cancers

and lung cancers better than doctors

we're just them to trade stocks and

shares on our behalf in the future the

near future will trust them to drive us

around and get us to place us safely

it's not crazy to ask which areas of

public policy might be favorably

effected by the introduction of

automated systems now I also know that

there are the book is about the problems

as well as the opportunities I always

you know there are problems with

algorithms as well just as there are

problems with human officials but

whether it's the local water board or

the local traffic system or whatever it

is building upwards to more profound

levels of public policy there might be a

role for non-human systems at the rate

that processing power is currently

developing in the next few years the

average desktop size piece of computer

costing $1,000 will have the same amount

of processing power of as all of

humanity combined and it just seems to

me that it will be it will be strange if

our methods of public policy didn't

change in response to that AI could be

in politics in a number of different

ways you might have an AI in your pocket

that advises you and how to

that'll be a less a less direct way or

you could have an AI in your pocket

which votes on your behalf a thousand

times a day on issues that are

communicated to it by some kind of

central body and you tell it what your

values are and it gathers data about you

and it knows what kind of life you live

any votes on your behalf or you can have

a system of liquid democracy where you

can delegate your votes electronically

to someone or some algorithm that you

trust on an issue better than your own

judgment so on matters relating to the

NHS I'm going to let this consortium of

doctors and nurses vote for me or I'm

going to let this algorithm which

aggregates the views of all doctors and

nurses vote on my behalf because I trust

them on their views on the NHS more than

I trust my own views the when you really

start thinking about it and I did try to

the actual opportunities and pitfalls

are almost endless but I sometimes feel

we don't think about this stuff at all

even though it really is on our doorstep

I think this is stuff that's within our

lifetime because we are so caught up in

the day-to-day fracas that is politics I

just think it would be good if we could

do both to raise our eyes to the horizon

the reason I say that is because if you

don't then the decisions are made for

you and they're not made for you by a

polity or through democratic means

they're made through the logic of the

market because these products these

technologies are developed by private

companies in pursuit of profit there's

nothing wrong with that but there's no

reason why technologies that develop

according to the logic of capitalism

would also be good for our public life

and our public health and I think we

begin to see that with social media and

the like so that's why I think we need

to apply our minds to these questions

now before the the bus arrives so they

were in a better position intellectually

to make the right call when the time

comes excellent thank you let's take

some questions from the audience I'll

take some two or three at a time you

could wait for the microphone to arrive

tell us who you are where you're from

and again please do remember that we're

on the record

so got the lady up here take the

gentleman in the front as well and then

the gentleman in the front row of the

next section Jaime thank you very much

for a very interesting setting out of

what your book covers and I haven't read

it so my name is Sean I work for Local

Government Association working with

councils around the area of Technology

digital and cybersecurity as well the

question I've got really is is it maybe

perhaps a little bit of a challenge and

that is the what you describe though the

technology perhaps gives us the power to

do things faster and more widespread is

this really any different from what the

press barons were a hundred years ago in

that they were able to influence and

shape the ordinary citizen and that

affected our behavior be that you know

the call to war be that the hatred of

another nation will be that the buying

of particular items be it for fashion or

for our day-to-day lives at the core is

it really that different thank you and

we just want to pass the mic long closed

only former MP in our house Lord so 40

years in politics you see and yeah I'm

particularly interested in the practice

of it because which is one of the things

you're addressing I often ask myself how

do I deal with the world that is coming

as a politician where I'm expected to

talk to people campaign on certain

issues or whatever and above all to pass

laws the first thing I'd say is I think

talking about democracy without an

underpinning of the rule of law is a

serious mistake and one of the arms

isn't way to your instant democracy bit

is well if you know 50 not 51 percent of

people vote to bring the young lady back

from Syria and put her in prison for

life and 49 percent both know what you


you don't even allow questions like that

to be put into effect because you use

the rule of law so the rule of law is an

underpinning for democracy is important

and I mean I do use quite I mean I set

up the law to the blow which is still

active actually believe it or not but I

still can't engage with people in the

way that I'm going to need to in in this

week become posthuman yeah most human

being is possible your pre human being

is a real struggle and have to say I do

think democracy is in some trouble at

the moment god is difficult Stephan

journey offski from the Department of

Work and Pensions it was really

interesting listening the paradol going

through mine was with Shoshana Zubov

book on surveillance capitalism where

you're covering a lot of the same ground

but I think sound more optimistic than

she does I think part of her argument is

that in some important ways the battle

has already been lost you were touching

on in your last answer to Gavin's

question and I guess the question

therefore is is this fundamentally a

problem that politics can solve so

within the challenges of decision-making

you alluded to is there a fundamental

political process that has a route

through the gets it right or is this as

zoo of implicitly and then simply as

explicitly argues almost a marketing

analysis that the economic drive to

surveillance capitalism can only be sold

at a level of economic structure thank

you well thank you for these wonderful

questions to take Siobhan's question

first I take the point the press barons

had an extraordinary amount of power in

the last century

and I think the political philosophy had

a lot to say about that I think there

are three key differences with

technology digital technology one is

that the newspaper didn't watch you back

the radio didn't listen

to you while you were listening to it

and so the difference with today's

technologies that give us information is

that they also take information from us

and that effects the choice of the

information that they then feedback

secondly and related if you listened to

the radio at the same time that I listen

to the radio or read the newspaper on

the same day that I read the newspaper

we'd receive the same information not

necessarily today if you log on to

Facebook to get your news and I log into

Facebook to get my news we might well

get different news even though it's the

same platform so in that sense a news

platform like Facebook is not the same

as a news platform like The Times the

third I would say is that in the 20th

century at least by and large you knew

what you were getting so if you pick up

a copy of the mirror or you pick up a

copy of The Telegraph you if you were

interested in such matters would be able

to know the likely slant of the content

of the material that you've picked up

but it's very hard for us when we digest

information that's presented to us by

digital systems to know if what we've

been presented with is true if not why

it's not true if it's partial the

respects in which it's partial and why

and the system is much more opaque

partly because it's inconsistent and

partly because it's different for every

person so because because media now

watches us back because it customizes

itself according to what it thinks we

want and because thirdly it doesn't tell

us how it does it I think it is

different the nature of the power from

what the press barons wielded in the

past conceptually though some of the

concepts will inherit from that world

are very useful ideas about breaking up

information monopolies and the like but

I do think we'll need to upgrade our

ideas based on the differences with

digital tech I think your point about

the rule of law is really important and

it ties into a sense that I have that a

lot of what we like about democracy is

actually what we like about liberal

democracy so in in ancient Athens if the

majority voted for you to die

you offered your head and that's what

Socrates discovered if the if there if

the majority voted for you to be

ostracized banished from the city for a

period of I think five years that was it

you were gone in the last couple of

hundred years we developed systems which

you call I think rightly the rule of law

which actually what they do is they

place limits and fetters on demo

democracy so for instance everyone in

this room has human rights such that

which are enshrined in law such that if

the crowd is baying for your blood even

99% of the people are baying for your

blood that right protects you from being

ostracized or being executed and I think

it all boils these are is us I think

subtle political distinctions that we

haven't had to wrestle with in a while

but really the last 200 years or so

democracy has been about trying to work

out how much democracy is the right

amount of democracy when it was only

very limited suffrage we wanted to

extend that but there have also been

decisions in recent years which limit

the amount democracy for example taking

some public policy decisions like

decisions that are taken by the Bank of

England out of democratic oversight

altogether so I think we'll have to

apply the same arguments to a world of

sophisticated technology how much

democracy is the right amount of

democracy and what limits should we

place on it the difficulty that our a

struggle with is that I don't think that

the populist mind which is often also an

authoritarian mind is prepared to engage

with the question of how much democracy

is the right amount of democracy the

argument runs if the people will it so

be it but I actually think we can be

more sophisticated than that with our

politics but it does take a bit of a bit

of doing

I haven't read professor Zubov book yet

and so I'm not going to engage with her

arguments directly I think however

having looked at the title it is an

indicator of the two different

approaches that we have she writes about

surveillance capitalism and what from

what I know of her work she rightly

identifies that the technological


and norms that are developing are

developing according to market logic

these technologies are coming out of the

private sector and they're being

developed according to the whims and

wills of those in the private sector who

want to profit from them

my whole effort is to stop us looking at

them as a purely economic phenomenon to

look at them as citizens rather than as

consumers and to say that actually in

the past we haven't just been satisfied

with things that the market burps up to

leave them as they are and accept that

is the ineluctably logic of the way that

things proceed so if you're a massive

polluter we slap taxes and regulations

on you and the same logic could have

could apply to technologies if we decide

that surveillance capitalism is a form

of economic organization that we do not

like then it to answer your question it

can only be politics that deals with it

do I think we can deal with it I think

we have our work cut out because I don't

think most of most of us really even

recognize as a problem yet and so when

people are asked me as they often do you

know is there's a problem that we can be

fixed can be fixed I say ask me in five

or 10 years time because right when

right now we're not even on the playing


we're not even really trying to engage

with these issues where's the government

department and I don't just mean little

think tanks here and there around

Whitehall I mean where is the cabinet

level Minister in this country who is

dealing with this on a day to day basis

and reporting to the Prime Minister and

this is one of the most advanced

democracies in the world and in many

respects were much better than a lot of

our peers so it is a job for politics

and only politics only collective action

through the legislative and democratic

process can protect freedom and justice

and democracy itself and can prevent

power from becoming too concentrated in

places where it shouldn't be so that's

why I called my book future politics we

have to recognize that as political

thanks a sec another round if we keep it

sure we might be able to squeeze another

round in as well and go the lady in the

front row here the gentleman at the back

and then one of the two gentlemen now

come back to the other one of you sure

well thank you for the talk it was

really interesting my name is Helena I

work for Save the Children and we've

been kind of starting to roll out new

technologies probably nothing on the

scale you're talking about today but

fairly primitive forms of new

technologies and one of the things we

found with that is the unintended to

gender consequences of doing that so to

give a very quick example when we start

transferring cash transfers through

mobile money rather than through

physical cash

often the cash is going to men it's

being held in the hands of men whereas

in the past maybe women would have kept

some of that cash back been able to hide

some in the house with mostly

distributing money to men rather than

women before when you touched on the

gendered aspects of the kind of Amazon

algorithm when you apply it to

government and politics is there what's

the kind of data and stats on how

gendered our consumption of this new

technology is so percentage of women

that are holding smartphones are

consumption of our news feeds how

gendered is that the fact that things

are being targeted outs by gender what's

the implications for government and

politics of the gendered nature of how

that tech is working hi thanks you talk

and it was really really interesting so

I've got a question about the evolution

of politics in the face of these new

challenges so use talking a lot about

how politics might change how we can

have new decision-making facilities and

systems in the future but to take two

examples that you would hope we would be

hopeful the US and the UK we already

have a system where in the Senate Rhode

Island in California have the same

voting weight in the UK the DUP who have

a constituency of 230 thousand voters

have 10 times the voting power of the

Greens who have a million and a half and

a million times more than UK who have

two million and a half voters so given

that our political systems in some

respects haven't even faced up to the

social changes of the 20th century and

in some cases the 19th century what hope

is there that we will have like

effective constitutional reform to meet


21st thank you and I tell you if you

keep him really sure we can get both of

you in in that room thanks for your talk

so I I once went to a talk by the CEO of

a Silicon Valley company and he

suggested that the Facebook or Google or

large tech companies could have a seat

at the UN Security Council and I thought

that was ridiculous but then as tech

companies take on more and more the

responsibilities that are traditionally

taken on by the state or by public

bodies so providing healthcare or taking

over parts of the infrastructure of

cities like in Toronto how much of a

danger does that pose to people's

perception of the legitimacy of states

in terms of their willingness to pay

things like taxes and then how much

could that influence potentially

vulnerable people who don't have access

to those things are now being provided

by private large tech companies thanks

hi Tom stranger from typography business

I really recently read max tegmark book

like 3.0 and if you've read that one but

it's a it's a really positive outlook on

AI one of the things that he goes into

is the fact that a is only limited by

the laws of physics and can expand array

of like hours and you said in here that

well I know that legislation and he

develops in weeks/months

and I mean if you look a whole political

system with generations how can the

legislation stand up to the challenge of

AI when it takes hours to grow rather

than generations

thank you again these are really great

questions Helen

gender consequences one of the things

that's really interesting about

technologies is that they as you say

they throw up or they throw into relief

in justices that already exist in the

world which perhaps we weren't even

consciously aware of as you're speaking

it reminded me of our a system that was

developed recently my machine learning

system that was given lots of human

language to digest and it was asked to

solve simple word problems so father as

to son as mother is to and it would

answer daughter but if you asked it man

is to search him as woman is to it would

reply nurse and if you asked it man is

architect as woman is to it would reply

interior designer and the reason to that

system did that was not because the

people who wrote the code were

misogynists it was because there are

actual deep structural inequalities or

in justices in the way that human beings

use language and those were shown in the

system that that was developed for an

entirely different purpose another

another similar example is Google's

autocomplete system I haven't tried it

with with gender but if you type in why

do Jews it finishes with have big noses

and the reason it does that is not

because Google is anti-semitic it's

because that is a question that lots of

people have asked when they began their

question with the words why do Jews and

so I imagine if you typed in why do

women you'd get some discipling things

there as well so to answer or rather not

to answer your question I don't have at

my fingertips statistics about

technology usage among women and men and

other genders and how it and how it and

how it is distributed around the world

what I do know is that technologies

themselves once those inequalities have

been identified can and should be

engineered to make the world less unjust

rather than simply replicating and

enhancing the injustice --is that

already exists in the world so when I

give the Google example recently a

Google engineer in the audience said

well you know that's that that's just a

neutral system and

well neutrality is one principle of

justice the neutrality isn't always the

best principle of justice so for

instance if you believe in positive

discrimination neutrality is the

opposite of justice in that circumstance

you actually believe that you should

wait something in favor of a particular

group who's that he's been disadvantaged

in the past so we need to have a more

sophisticated view about the the the

neutrality of certain algorithms so that

they don't so that we don't end up

simply replicating and justices that

already exist in the world another good

example is air B&B if you're a person of


you're 16% less likely to have your

Airbnb requests accepted right and

that's across the board not just by

individual landowners of property owners

but by the big institutional ones that

make money from renting out their

properties to the Airbnb say that's a

neutral algorithm I say that algorithm

should be engineered so as to counter

that effect so that the world is more

just once that algorithm has been

applied than it was when it started this

is what I mean when I say that like it

or not software engineers are

increasingly social engineers but once

you have a clear idea in your mind of

your principles of social justice you

shouldn't just accept the technology is

going to exacerbate them what hope do we

have given we haven't adapted to the

problems of the 19th or 20th century is

something that keeps me up at night and

I don't I don't really have an answer to

you I guess the only thing I would say

is that some problems that arise quickly

are dealt with quickly other problems

that arise over hundreds of years are

dealt with slowly we need to identify

what the magic sauce is to put this on

the agenda so that it is dealt with

swiftly we haven't been that successful

with climate change in the developed

world I guess probably because it builds

up slowly over time and that is just

really difficult my own little

contribution is that I go around and

rant about it but each of us has to ask

of ourselves and ask of our political

leaders whether they are truly engaging

with the big public policy questions of

our time

the Security Council think if to me is

so interesting because it's a great

example of Silicon Valley guys who have

never studied political philosophy

grabbing the wrong end of the stick and

then whacking themselves around the face

were there if your company has acquired

the powers and responsibilities that are

like those of a state so it can affect

the democratic process it can affect the

distribution of goods it can determine

the scope of your liberty political

philosophies answer to that is not that

you should be given more power by giving

us being given a seat at the United

Nations is that that power should be

subject to oversight and to transparency

so that the people who are governed by

that power have a say in its usage

that's Western political philosophy in a

sentence and it's a big problem that

these guys who are really are mostly

guys who are rebuilding the world do so

with a understanding of political

obligation and responsibility that is

often much less sophisticated than their

technical technical understanding and I

do criticize them but of course I also

criticize politicians and the like for

their lack of technical understanding as

well so what I think is most likely to

damage people's perception of the state

is if the state itself it fails to deal

with these challenges to the supremacy

of its power I think if you live in

Burma or Myanmar and Facebook is really

the only is it really the only source of

the Internet as the only source of

online news it's very hard for the state

to muscle in on that and in a sense

you're starting at the wrong end when

you ask how can the state be more

legitimate well the state is plainly

failing to provide the infrastructure

that Facebook is providing and so in a

sense Facebook has a greater degree of

legitimacy than that than the state in

that instance will be a that as I say it

should be subject to the scrutiny and

oversight that a status subject subject

to but this battle between States and

tech firms to me is going to be one of

the great defining debates of the next

century and there's a spectrum on the

one end you've got the full China where

the interests of the state and of the


is almost entirely aligned and the state

is able to co-opt the power of

technology for its own ends and the

other end you have things like crypto

companies or Apple refusing to give is

the password to the iPhone of the San

Bernardino terrorists where you've got

State Farm's against so we've got tech

loans against the state butting up

against each other in the middle you

have firms like the firms in America

whose job it is to gather data so it's

unconstitutional for the overmare for

the US government to engage in mass

surveillance of populations it's not

unconstitutional for the US government

to buy that information from private

sector entities that do it so there are

whole companies whose job it is to

gather together data about people and

package it and sell it to the US

government so there you have something

in the middle where there's a sort of

commercial pact between the states and

the tech firm this spectrum is something

that I think needs greater attention and

we need to decide where best tech firms

should sit on it my preferences were

somewhere around here I think there

should be a healthy tension between tech

firms in the state neither should be in

the pocket of the other and the final

question was about I think the speed of

technology so technology moves really


AI in particular can have a great leap

forward in the course of an hour and how

can laws catch up it's a problem it's

not the only problem there are other

problems like most of the smartest tech

people aren't working in the government

they're working for the tech firms and

making a killing not even working in

universities anymore you know to go back

to the Harvard experience they really

struggled to retain software it's a

computer scientists because Google gives

them a million quid a year to do

whatever they like in its data labs

where they have access to much more

powerful systems and much more plentiful

data so a bit like financial services

where they're probably worse there are a

lot of challenges posed by technology to

develop so fast with the most

sophisticated people and then you've got

the old state plodding along behind the

state still has some advantages and it

ultimately does call the shots and tech

firms should be aware that if they try

simply to outrun the state the state

will just end up legislating probably

cause blundering in call

more harm than good so there are lots of

reasons why tech for about it could be

incentivized to cooperate with the state

and improve its behavior anyway in your

particular example of the kind of

exponential a I all of a sudden

developing and taking over the world

which isn't isn't what you said but I'm

sort of taking it to its logical

conclusion it's very hard to regulate

for that but what I think you can do and

what I tried to do in the book is step

back and say what are the broad changes

that are taking place here technology is

getting more capable more and more data

is being gathered technology is becoming

more ubiquitous then you can identify

the public policy responses to those in

principle then in practice and then

you've got laws and regulations that are

based on the intellectual foundations

laid on cater for everything but that's

not really a reason to cater for nothing

which is what we I think too often do


I'm really sorry we're gonna have to end

it there and particularly particularly

sorry to those of you who have questions

do you pick up a copy of the book

afterwards like 15 pounds as I said

earlier says a bargain and if you

enjoyed the event tonight there's so

much more and to sort of dissect and

think about in in the book do join us

for a drink and some nibbles afterwards

thank you very much for coming along

this evening and for some very well

informed questions and finding a huge

thank you to Jamie for talking to us

about his book this evening thank you

very much


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