‘[I]t is not enough for democracy to be radical; it must be revolutionary’ argues Wayne Price
One of Winston Churchill’s most notable lines was:
No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.
At the turn of the 20th century, there were fewer than ten democracies in the world. By the turn of the 21st, that number had reached 80, with half of humanity governed by some form of democracy. Yet, we’ve grown astutely aware of the flaws in the system in the past two years, with some calling for an end to democracy.
The tech behemoths’ role in nation-states is evolving
The biggest US tech companies now have powers which challenge the primacy of governments in many domains. In many cases they also have capabilities not available to nation states. We touched on these issues, and the notion of “corporate foreign policy” in one of the previous issues of my weekly newsletter Exponential View.
Now in the Pennsylvania Law Review, Kristen Eichensehr looks at the issue of Digital Switzerlands in greater depth, 66 pages of it to be precise. We’ve summarized parts of it here. One key distinction between large corporations and nation states is that they lack territory, control of state-violence, and have very different governance mechanisms to nation-states. But that is as true for many supranational bodies as well.
Recent successes in deploying AI point to a crucial challenge the field is facing
I read Martin Wolf’s wonderful essay about the challenges facing government in the light of significant labour displacements. Last week there were two relevant, but distinct, announcements from Babylon Health and OpenAI. I aimed to connect the dots between these in the latest issue of my weekly newsletter Exponential View. (Read the issue | Subscribe)
First, Babylon: the company announced that their AI-based chatbot had performed better than the typical British GP (a GP is a generalist physician rather than a specialist) on the qualifying exams run by the Royal College of General Practitioners. Babylon’s bot scored 81% on a test where humans averaged 72%, although there are some methodology issues. You can read a news story here, and the research paper, which I’ve skimmed, here.
Last year, $163bn was invested into founders globally, compared to a $25–56bn range in the 10-year period to 2013. Corporate venture capital (CVC), whereby large firms invest in interesting startups, is on an upswing. CVC, traditionally a second-tier option for enterpreneurs, now represents about 18% of all venture deals globally and about a third of all dollars invested in venture. CVC of 2017 is bigger than the entire VC industry of 2013.How do you make sense of it?
Facebook does not sell your data. It protects your data like Gollum holding the ring. Selling your data would not be nearly as profitable as leasing access to you, via advertising— over and over again.
There is a notion worth revisiting: are nation states nearing their end as our preferred scale of the political and socio-economic organisation? This idea lies in contrast with the “end of history” theory of modernity, first posited by the American political scientist Francis Fukuyama.
I’ve found the question of evolving the nation-state fascinating since the early 1990s when I first came across ideas of decentralised forms of organisation enabled by new electronic networks (and was contemporaneously studying political institutions and models of governance).
Much of the work done in AI is of the intangible quality, and will drive spillovers
French President Emmanuel Macron announced his intention to make France an AI leader and avoid “dystopia”, supported by €1.5bn in investment. France is not the first country to surge ambitiously towards establishing itself as a “leader” in AI. Putin famously stated that “whoever becomes the leader in this sphere will become the ruler of the world”. China has a three-year action plan to establish itself at the top. Canada’s Trudeau discussed on multiple occasions the consequences of automation, and the opportunities of artificial intelligence. Macron demonstrates nuanced understanding of the opportunity — both technological and social — of artificial intelligence in this must-read interview.
This sort of thing can only help capitalise on the value of these technologies. I do believe that cultural and intellectual diversity (and France has those when arrayed with China and the US) can only help in the development of appropriate AI systems. The equivalent UK number is only about £75m (€85m), which is a pity considering the nation’s intellectual heritage across both humanities and technology domains, and bottom-up appetite for the Internet over the past 30 years. More importantly, few world leaders have expressed such adroitness with this sea change than Macron has.