In the current wave of populism, and revamped risk of totalitarianism, I came to wonder how can democracy survive. What I was after was a realistic path to success that would overcome the inherent slowness to reaction, to adoption of new technologies, the inertia to change.
Framing the question in those terms, made it crystal clear that populism -and even more so totalitarianism- are simply more agile in times of change.
When this realization came to mind, considering the supertechnologies about to rise -like Robotics and A.I.– and the risks these technologies bring together with them if not handled promptly, for the first time I came to wonder: is saving democracy the way to go at this point in history?
Populism is fast, leaves behind all the institutional bureaucracy, the good manners, the protocols, and while the more traditional democratic bureaucrats try to slowly get a grasp of what is going on, it’s already ahead of them by another year.
Technology is advancing fast, and Democracies are about mediation and debate and finding a solution that suit the majority: they are inherently slow. However we may not have the luxury of time, and we will have less and less of it as time goes by.
I like to think at the following example as paradigmatic: our legislation hasn’t yet fully metabolized the raise of mp3’s… Napster was founded in 1999: our democracies have been watching this issue for 20 years without seemingly having the slightest clue of what to do about it.
Technology ended up having to invent a subscription system, leaving legislation further behind! How so? Well, the copyright system was not designed for the internet era, and the industry was financially collapsing so badly, that eventually it had to settle for an “ok, let’s make it 10$ a month… better than no $ at all”!
All the while, the fourth industrial revolution is becoming a hot topic, robots are greatly positioned to take millions or even billions of our jobs within a decade or two, risking to flood our society with unemployment and mayhem.
This is only the bad side of the story, too.
The ugly part is: what if a technology arises that has the potential to cause deaths by the millions? No, once again: not science fiction… one example out of a million that come to mind? Within a decade there will be millions of self driving cars.
If someone was to find a way to hack them on a mass-scale and reprogram them to cause mass disruption, we wouldn’t have the luxury of mediating and debating what needs to be done.
Naturally, if and when anthropomorphic robots were to become widespread, the problem would become much bigger still.
Will we have a decent copyright legislation when that happens?
We need our democracies to become faster and more reactive, and we need to start working on that now to be ready when the technology will make that an imperative requirement… the risk here is ending up having no choice but to give way to totalitarianism as the only possible way to govern a world that is changing too fast to be coped with democratically.