How to save America with artificial intelligence
Political polarization is ripping America apart. References to a second American civil war – no matter how far-fetched – reveal a bitterly divided nation. Indeed, the Founding Fathers’ worst nightmare is coming to pass.
For all of its promise, technology bears much of the blame for fracturing America. For one, social media platforms create powerful “echo chambers” that feed us a nonstop diet of one-sided, hyper-partisan news and commentary. This dangerous phenomenon – where our beliefs are constantly reinforced and rarely challenged – is not unique to liberals or conservatives. Instead, it is a function of technology capitalizing on an ever-expanding cultural and social divide.
But what if technology could be harnessed to reverse this corrosive effect on American society and its underlying cause? Moreover, at a time when factual news reporting is all too often immediately dismissed as “fake,” we are in desperate need of voices broadly respected by all Americans.
Enter America’s Founding Fathers and machine learning.
Despite the passage of centuries, Americans of all political stripes continue to invoke the ideas and writings of the Founders. Few figures hold more sway or command more respect among political pundits, politicians and everyday patriots than Adams, Hamilton, Jay, Jefferson, Madison and Washington.
While it may seem far-fetched on its face, what if artificial intelligence and machine learning could bring these titans of history back to “life” to weigh in on the challenges facing the United States today?
Artificial intelligence, in short, amounts to providing machines with enough data to make decisions or predictions without human input. Autonomous cars, for example, drive around American cities gathering real-time “experience” to inform decision-making. The challenge with driverless cars, however, is that staggering amounts of data are required to predict the many surprises that these machines are likely to encounter on the road.
But when it comes America’s Founding Fathers, we have all the data that we need – in their writings, speeches and legislative records – to “resurrect” them through machine learning. Indeed, the Founders discussed and debated the most contentious issues – from the media to taxation, education, religion and beyond – that America confronts today. Human nature, after all, ensures that history tends to repeat itself.
Bringing the Founders “back” through artificial intelligence processes would bestow enormous benefits. For one, the addition of such revered and respected “voices” would allow us to regain some semblance of civility in public discourse. Indeed, it would be difficult to denigrate Jefferson or Madison’s “take” on contemporary issues such as the national debt or impeachment as partisan “fake news.”
Most importantly, the most corrosive effects of hyper-partisan, ratings-driven media outlets – and the social media platforms that enable them – would be blunted, reining in the extreme division and political polarization gripping America.
To be sure, significant challenges would accompany such an ambitious venture. The process of coding the Founders’ writings and records into mathematical vectors digestible by machines could prove complex, stretching current capabilities to their limitations. The same is true for the all-important task of accurately translating the issues dividing America today into machine-readable data. But the good news is that significant groundwork has been done in this arena: Artificial intelligence and neural networks already conduct political predictions as well as complex, issue-based analyses.
With little potential for profit, securing adequate funding for such an endeavor will also prove challenging. But thanks to initiatives such as Google’s “Artificial Intelligence for Social Good” and grants supporting AI-enabled fact-checking, there is reason for optimism. Indeed, the inherently ethical and positively disruptive nature of such technology may attract broad support from an ideologically diverse cross-section of civically-minded institutions and individuals.
Ultimately, the Founding Founders’ lasting gift to the American people is a treasure trove of wisdom on civil discourse, shared values and sound governance. At a time when America finds itself dangerously divided, we must not hesitate to harness the Founding Fathers’ collective legacy for the betterment of the nation that they cherished so dearly.
Marik von Rennenkampff served as an analyst with the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation, as well as an Obama administration appointee at the U.S. Department of Defense. Follow him on Twitter @MvonRen.