Sunday, July 21, 2013

Democracy, Technology and Government - Alan Turings case

I read the book "Digitized" by Peter Bentley this weekend. In it, he describes how Alan Turing (Founding Father of Computer Science) and few other people did research work for Government. It seems that the work done for the governments did not get published. Given what got published and its implications for humanity, I can only shudder at the possible implications of what did not get published.

While there is sense in not publishing the details of making Atom Bombs far too widely, the book has raised questions about the governance of knowledge in society in my mind. Research for "military use" seems to assume that technology can be managed in terms of its implications, which is a false assumption. Any given technology delivers different benefits or dis-benefits depending on the context. The control of the boundaries of public and private (one of the themes I have explored elsewhere) remains more with the state.

State can accumulate multiple technologies which put the future of humanity at risk. Democracies are not entirely rational and may vote the wrong individual/party to power. If a wrong individual gets elected to power, he will acquire control over technologies which the citizens may not even be aware of.

Who will then protect liberty from the misuse of these technologies? The till-now-mythical single/group-of technologies shown in multiple movies which grant global control surely exists already or will exist shortly. I suspect that the former is true. The world trundles on unaware that it has manufactured means to destroy liberty/freedom (or much worse humanity) and is unable to protect itself from letting these means officially fall into wrong hands.

Do I then recommend that we abandon democracy? No. I propose that we strengthen it further, but that we think hard about how to limit the control of potential government and private despots over the rest of us.  How do our current democracies protect us and what mechanisms are needed in democracies to protect liberty/freedom and humanity?

The absence of true democracy means that the future of many is hostage to the whims of a few. This has always  been the case. What has changed now is that the rest of us do not even know how vulnerable we are to the whims of a few.
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