Democracy

Economic Dignity and Security

The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted—and accelerated—increasing inequality and barriers to universal economic dignity and security. Building inclusive forms of wealth in modern society is not simply a matter of economic development, it is an interdisciplinary endeavor bringing into focus the dynamic interactions between political economy and authentic human flourishing. Our focus is understanding how real wealth is built in historically disadvantaged communities. Addressing the systemic dimensions of poverty requires ethical principles and normative guidance to be integrated into the economic policy process.

This project is situated within a broader discussion about the health of democracy. Impediments to economic dignity and security create barriers to the full expression of political liberty, compounding the ongoing effects of systemic injustices such as racism. Community Wealth Building, a policy paradigm that prioritizes developing institutions and public assets in ways that ensure wealth stays local and is broadly shared, strengthens democracy by creating inclusive forms of wealth, fostering sustainable local economies, and advancing the common good.

Technology and Democracy

Our tech ethics series aims to flip the narrative around technology policy. Instead of exploring the impact of technology on democracy or human rights, the series will explore what the pursuit of democracy and the protection of human rights should mean for how we govern technology. Instead of treating technology as the actor, we treat technology as the product of human decisions, whether about how to design algorithms or build automated vehicles, how to develop gene editing programs, or how to deploy artificial intelligence and biotechnologies within human institutions. Instead of exploring the implications of technology for democratic values and human rights, we will explore the implications of democratic values and human rights for how we build and use technology.

To better understand what it means to pursue democratic reform and protect human rights in the twenty-first century, we will interrogate the public policies and regulatory schemes at a federal, state, and local level that shape how technology is governed.

Apotheosis of Democracy frieze from the U.S. Capitol building, Washington, D.C.

A More Equal Future?

Machine Learning is everywhere. AI-evangelists promise that data-driven decision-making will not only boost organizational efficiency, it will also help make organizations fairer and advance social justice. Yet the effects of machine learning on social justice, human rights, and democracy will depend not on the technology itself, but on human choices about how to design and deploy it. Among the most important is whether and how to ensure systems do not reproduce and entrench pervasive patterns of inequality.
The authors argue that we need radical civil rights reforms to regulate AI in the digital age, and must return to the roots of civil rights. This paper is adapted from Josh Simons’ forthcoming book, Algorithms for the People: Democracy in the Age of AI, published by Princeton University Press this Fall.

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Blue and purple computer code blurred

How AI Fails Us

The dominant vision of artificial intelligence imagines a future of large-scale autonomous systems outperforming humans in an increasing range of fields. This “actually existing AI” vision misconstrues intelligence as autonomous rather than social and relational. It is both unproductive and dangerous, optimizing for artificial metrics of human replication rather than for systemic augmentation, and tending to concentrate power, resources, and decision-making in an engineering elite.  Alternative visions based on participating in and augmenting human creativity and cooperation have a long history and underlie many celebrated digital technologies such as personal computers and the internet.  Researchers and funders should redirect focus from centralized autonomous general intelligence to a plurality of established and emerging approaches that extend cooperative and augmentative traditions as seen in successes such as Taiwan’s digital democracy project to collective intelligence platforms like Wikipedia. We conclude with a concrete set of recommendations and a survey of alternative traditions.

“How AI Fails Us,” Divya Siddarth, Daron Acemoglu, Danielle Allen, Kate Crawford, James Evans, Michael Jordan, E. Glen Weyl (December 1, 2021).

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A New Foundation for Justice, Safety, and Equity

Key Principles

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hand holding an iphone with rainbox bokeh lights across it

Digital Public Goods

As Digital Public Goods (DPGs) become more common we must recognize the ethical considerations of how and by whom these systems are built. The resources below provide guidelines for organizations involved in creating and employing DPGs.

“Digital Public Goods: Guidance for Development, Governance, and Stewardship,” Jeff Behrends, Joshua Simons, Kevin Troy, and Harshita Gupta (Cambridge, MA: July 27, 2021).

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Vaccine Passports

Recommendations for Curtailing Inequity

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Roadmap to Healthy Schools

Building Organizational Capacity for Infection Prevention and Control (IPC)

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