There is an urgent need for an ArtificiaI Intelligence mediated public interest information and news space for all global citizens. AI mediated, because news and information we see is always mediated by someone or some entity, even the BBC, AP and respected American news channels. And we can now do so much better.
Recent political events have shown how easily the public space of the Internet can be corrupted, whether by Trump’s lies on Twitter, the manipulation of social media to spread weighted pre-election misinformation by hostile outside interests, or censorship and propaganda spread by nationalistic regimes. It is a disturbing result that there is now an opportunity for democratic governments (such as Australia) to start touting regulatory solutions which are in effect wolves in sheep’s clothing. In an academic paper, Government, Cryptography and the Right To Privacy written in 1996, myself and co-author Peter Gutmann argued that national governments will always try to obtain leverage to control their own citizens. It is up to the citizens to resist such regulation, whether to give up encryption keys or control search engines by classing them as publishers. Other measures of this type may also appear to be benign, but are a Trojan horse enabling more and more Government surveillance and control of their own citizens. That is not paranoid supposition, that is our documented conclusion following careful study.
How then, does the global polity trying to order a chaotic global information environment plus pressing ecological issues, construct a “true” media environment that has authenticated information? And also get people to interact with such a space?
The answer lies with the inversion of what we currently see happening on social media. Already, Facebook sees the danger of Government regulation looming, and has instituted some modest self-censorship. Facebook and Twitter both suspended Trump’s account on their platforms.
But Facebook algorithms continue to shape users’ perception by recommending other media that may be damaging in a democratic sense. What if Facebook and other social media giants were obliged to advertise, channel, and otherwise use their resources to guide users to an AI mediated global news and information environment? There would still be freedom of choice, but reliable information and news would be available without interference from Governments or profit-driven private interests.Payments for news services could be set up under a universal, independent system that operates as a tax, as a separation of content and payment.
Twenty-four years ago, I wrote an academic paper in which I advocated for a public space that contributed information that all global citizens needed to see.
My work was considered to be a utopian view of the world. However, as subsequent events have shown, it is not a utopian view to attempt to protect the public political space and provide correct factual information and news to the global polity. If it isn’t done, the risks are enormous.
It is an essential part of democracy, as we have just seen. But it is also an essential component of finding the political will to assure the future of our world as a habitable place.
In the wake of Trump’s exposure of the dangers of Facebook and Twitter enabled misinformation and the like, we see the worst form of development of what could have been a catalyst for global sustainability and political justice. AI provides a prospect of a powerful, authenticated, fact-checked, independent knowledge base and news source that could provide a knowledge stream targeted to each user. It could develop into my personal dream, global voting, and a global democratic political presence in the world.
Here is what I wrote then, and given what has been shown to be possible now, the real question is, what are we waiting for? Instead of a stealthy interference with internet freedoms, governments should demand a new AI mediated news and information space, one that gives the global citizenry information and news that is as close to the truth as accepted global principles of information authentication and news gathering can make it.
From my paper One Net One World – Global Citizenship and the Internet (1996)
The possibilities of an ethically moderated environment are not futuristic scenarios. The beginnings of such an environment may be observed in online education, and the activities of pressure groups which support free speech and privacy of communications where they may be under threat from national governments. The term “Netizen”, meaning committed member of the internet community, is already in use. To visualise the social and political potential of a radically different means of communication such as the internet requires a rewriting of what is possible. Generally in the past, a set of given principles held by a social or national group have been built upon within a framework of geographic and cultural constraints. These constraints of national objectives, religion, or economic imperatives, have greatly modified utopian or idealised political ideologies. The internet holds within its structure the potential for development of a global public forum unprecedented in scope and opportunity. For philosophers such as Jurgen Habermas, [Habermas 1989] public spheres created in the past, such as those of ancient Greece and the Enlightenment of eighteenth century Europe, have pointed the way to advances in human endeavours and thinking. Though imperfect in many respects (women were not included, political and social structures to some extent hindered function) these forums put thinkers together in conditions of relative equality, and produced highly influential intellectual streams of thought. Such a forum already exists in an informal interaction of networks and newsgroups within the internet. But one of the primary lessons of Habermas is the fragility of these forums, which may be perceived as threatening to the power of established groups.
It is an imperative to development of an internet political identity that the internet forum should be mapped and defended, so that its freedoms are not lost to commercial or outside political interests. The internet currently has the key quality of unfettered global access, within the constraints of computer access and pricing. A person can interact with a computer to fulfil his or her information and social requirements, publish on the net, and hold personal power by doing so. Information is not censored or “fed” with the user as a market. However, possibly more importantly, the internet meets a social requirement of an individual to establish relationships before making an effort to understand another point of view. Here the behaviour of the person as an ethical being, as someone with cultural and psychological boundaries, may possibly be changed very considerably. The internet represents an opportunity for a liberal, or unconstrained political ideology of the type described by Sowell [Sowell 1987]. Large-scale fruitful political discourse already exists through networks set up by individual organisations such as environmental pressure groups, but these networks appear to be reproducing existing [Shearer J.: One Net One World Global Citizenship and the Internet] organisational and ideological constraints through their structure. The architecture and ideals of a liberal or unconstrained community could be set up with reference to an agreed theoretical base without suffering the penalties traditionally associated with imposition of radical ideologies. That is without having to fight, or suffer punitive action from competing regimes.
The internet is currently not controlled by any particular regime, though it is likely the next few years will see a critical power struggle for its control. Change fostered by an ethical global environment in the internet would be of the secondary variety produced by changing public opinion, and the purpose of such an ethical environment would be to protect the freedom of speech of internet users and to develop its public sphere potential towards global levels of ethical thought and action. The motivation is firstly, that such a liberal ideology should be embraced by internet users because they are at risk of losing existing freedoms, and secondly, such an ideology provides in a global sense the “right” path forward. The internet is not the first communication technology which has been the focus of dreams of human improvement. Television, for example, was supposed to educate the population but its potential has largely foundered under the weight of ratings-driven mass-appeal programming. Why should the internet be any different? Possibly, because the global citizen will have learned the lessons of the failure of these earlier technologies, and the global citizen will in a sense be driving his or her own car – that is, will have choice. In the event of societal infrastructure failure, the citizen will be able to construct something different which works. Utopian visions were expressed 34 years ago by Ted Nelson. [Nelson 1987] The prevailing philosophy of the internet has always been relatively anarchistic, resulting in a free and sprawling environment which has always held the possibility of fulfilling visions such as Nelson’s. This freedom is now under threat [Elmer-Dewitt 1994] from a number of competing ideologies. The most obvious aggressor is free market ideology, becoming successful possibly because it mimics the typical internet mindset in terms of promoting individualism. However the free marketeer is motivated towards profit rather than teamwork and the common good. Interests of sovereign states now pose a threat, as national governments move to impose regulation in areas such as control of pornography, and use of cryptography by individuals wishing for privacy in their communications. Interventions by national governments may limit access to or cause damage to the Internet structure, not as a deliberate attempt at damage, but as a flow on effect of policy decisions.
Lining up against the well-rehearsed arguments of the market and national governments, the internet community currently lacks an agreed base of principle from which to develop a self-protective strategy. By developing a philosophical position, the internet community may employ strategies such as mediation to uphold free speech while addressing the persistent problems caused by pornography on the internet. [Shearer 1996]. In the area of cryptography, the principle of privacy of communications is able to be upheld in opposition to the perceived right of governments, such as the US Government, to regulate the use of cryptography. [Shearer & Gutmann, 1996]. The principle of freedom of development [Shearer J: One Net One World -Global Citizenship and the Internet]of the internet is able to be employed in arguing that current US software patents policy is damaging to the internet [Shearer & Vermeer 1995]. In an intellectual climate this century which has foregone moral certainty it is difficult to build an “ethical” framework with the purpose of protecting freedom of users and developing the potential of the internet. However when the alternative is paralysis in the face of moral challenge, it is appropriate to attempt to establish a defensible ethical structure. On a practical level many good things could be seen to flow from the setting up of an information, or rather, knowledge system, together with a public forum as an ethical environment within the internet.
Such matters as classification of information in terms of its authenticity or to provide ease of access to the user, the control of certain types of socially disruptive behaviour such as sending abusive messages or extreme (such as classifications outlawed in most countries) pornography, the opportunity to facilitate free and open discussion, new understanding between people on the basis of a shared global interest, and an efficient organisation of the market, are positive potential outcomes. An “ideal community” could be set up within the Web, for example, with links to cooperating sites and a developing new media which would incorporate global views and voices. However, the visionary aspect entails more; that such an ethical environment should include in its architecture an open political function which could potentially be used for global citizens to better their world, for example to end world hunger, and war, to improve the environment, to build a sustainable future. To take a laissez-faire approach to development in the internet is to deny the potential benefits of global citizenship to future generations. The function of the technology will be limited by its social architecture to supply of information rather than development of knowledge bases and political pathways with the aim of global improvement. An agenda for debate on the future of the internet may be set by attempting to justify a particular ethical environment.