Automation Will Crash Democracy

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Updated: Mar 14, 2023
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Around the world, technology is constantly disrupting the workforce, with automation poised to displace humans in the fields of medicine, agriculture, and beyond. Will the rise of robots fuel a new wave of “us versus them” populism capable of undermining democracy? For some, the answer is yes. They argue that as people lose jobs to robots, the gap between the rich and poor widens, distrust in government and democratic institutions grows, and populist ideas become more attractive to those who feel left behind.

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The importance of work trumps the importance of democracy, leaving a clear path for authoritarians to rise under nationalist messages that pit groups of people against one another. But others paint a different picture: They argue that humans have adapted to and benefited from new innovations for centuries. From the advent of water and steam power to computers, work has changed, but never disappeared. And as automation drives higher productivity growth, humans can reach their full potential and pursue societal innovation, allowing more citizens to feel fulfilled and strengthening democracy on the whole. Automation will crash democracy.

There is a large group of people that believe that automation will take over the world believes that one day automation will rule over us! If this were to happen the gap between inequality, the gap between the rich and the poor would skyrocket. The rich would be the only ones to be able to afford. The middle class would become servants of the rich. At that point, there would be more demand for redistribution. The cost of tolerating democracy would be too much! They think that the government, the politicians will not be able to function with robots running around. The real problem is that no one knows when we are going to develop automation or robots as smart as humans. With a conscious mind, the robots will then begin to take our jobs and slowly take our planet, just like in the movies. We do not have a handbook on how to deal with this. It is different than all the other industrial revolutions. With all the other big power and corrupt countries that could possibly be more advanced than us, could destroy us. It is the unknown of other countries that makes us vulnerable. One of the scariest examples is examples of democracy crashing in other countries.

Although the United States is one of the most developed countries in the world, there could still be a more developed country in the sense of automation. According to Ian Bremmer (2018), the founder and president of Eurasia Group, the leading global risk research and consulting firm, “automation is constantly undermining the workforce, eventually crashing democracy” (2018). With unemployment being at an all time high, automation is a huge contributor to this statistic (2018). One in six people are would prefer a strong military rule to a democracy (2018). The United States was founded in 1776, therefore the democracy set in place by government in that year is now outdated. Just like smartphones, smartwatches, smart cars, and even smart homes; we need a smart democracy. A sort of revamp to the idea of democracy.

Revamping democracy does not mean changing or getting rid of the Constitution or extreme ideas like that. Perhaps it means better regulations on automation. Andrew Keen, an internet entrepreneur and an author of a book looking into the future of technology stated, “we have no idea what is happening in automation” (2018). The idea of nobody knowing what is happening is scary. The idea that one day there could be an entire military consisting of only robots with no emotions or morals is absolutely terrifying.

Yascha Mounk a senior fellow at New America and author of “People Verse Democracy” stated, “there is a generalization about automation that most people do not fully understand. Even if automation has the intelligence of a human being, the computing power to think and decide will be much quicker and technical than ours.” (2018). With walking computers going around the world it is safe to say that the world would be a much more dangerous place. With automation not having any emotions or morals, things that they could do by the request of their owner could be malicious, some might even consider some ideas evil.

Part of the job of democracy is to listen to the people. It is a government run by the people of the country. What happens when the country is run by robots and general intelligence and you no longer need to make the people happy? Robots will do everything for us, there would be no need for a democracy if people start relying on their personal, walking computers. Alina Polyakova is a fellow at the Brookings Institution and author of “The Dark Side of European Integration” stated, “in history, people give their best when their best is needed of them. Democratic systems can be dynamic and flexible and be the best, when we need it to be” (2018). Stated previously, the democratic system in place in the United States was meant for that generation.

One example of having an outdated democratic system would be the lack of gun control. Now days gun control can be a heated subject. Due to lack of regulation and laws on guns when they were first invented has contributed to how lucrative and malicious they can be in the wrong hands now. With no restrictions on patents and gun types in the past 100 years, it would be impossible to fully control them now. The same is with automation, without regulations on the computing power of it, nobody knows when someone will be able to make a death machine. One day, somebody could build a robot and command it to do harm to other people. With laws and regulations on the technology that could one day possibly due this, it could be preventable.

In an article written by Lee Drutman and Yascha Mounk it stated “Machines are about to get very good at doing a range of tasks that human beings have historically been paid to perform. By some estimates, half of current jobs are in danger of being replaced. If anything close to this happens, a smaller and smaller share of the human population will possess skills that make them more productive than machines.” (2016) As a larger supply of labor competes for fewer jobs, wages will fall for most or dry up completely. “Advanced democracies like the United States would then be transformed by the rise of two wildly different strata of society, with very little to keep them connected: A small upper class will largely rely on technology to serve its needs.” (2016). This perspective is widely seen today. With the advancement of smart homes people no longer need to do as little as pick up their phone sometimes.

Drutman and Mounk both look at the automation in various perspectives. With the hopes and mentality of automation being developed at a safe and steady pace, it is unrealistic without immediate action on regulations. With people relying more and more on computers to make decisions for them, it is a safe concern to wonder if it is actually mentally healthy for us. Andrew Prahl and Robert D. Enright both take a deep dive into this topic to get to the bottom of it. “Automation has advanced at a surprising rate into both routine and advanced decision-making processes over the past 2 decades. Almost since the introduction of all but the most basic computers, scholars have realized that the actuarial decision-making methods used by automation have key advantages over human (clinical) decision making” (2017). The problem with automation and computers making decisions for us is that we quickly become reliant on them. Although it is getting easier and easier to have something so small it can fit in your pocket, to help make a decision for you. We will not always have it with us. The skill to make decisions is quickly dwindling in the current generation.

Not only can automation affect physical aspects of our lives but also mentally. Drutman stated “Although some observers may simply see this as another example of the centuriesold struggle of humans being replaced by machines, most economists and experts agree that new forms of automation possessing artificial intelligence pose a truly unprecedented threat to the human workforce. Furthermore, if true, the implications extend beyond just joblessness, because there is considerable research showing that unemployment has negative effects on mental health.” (2017). With mental health also being a big issue and headline on the news recently, would democracy be able to withstand another cause of mental health issues?

In addition to the concern that humans are losing jobs to machines, scholars are also pondering the moral and ethical implications of machines making decisions that could cause harm to humans. Perhaps the clearest example of this emerging field is the speculation about fault when self-driving cars are involved in accidents. The quickly approaching era of self-driving cars illustrates the most important thing for counselors to understand about automated decision making today. Automated decisions and decision-making processes have tremendous consequence. Moral accountability asks if automation can be blamed for a moral wrong. “Early research in this area showed that regardless of the level of human involvement, slightly more than 20% of computer science students would hold a machine morally accountable for administering a fatal dose of radiation.” (2017) If a computer or autonomy is held accountable for a moral wrong doing, what would the consequences be?

Moral distancing is similar to emotional distancing. The more distant one is from another person, the less likely one is to recognize the inherent worth of the other person. Consider, for example, that killing a faceless fellow human being by pressing a button to launch a missile halfway around the world is “easier” than killing in hand-to-hand combat. On a much less severity, this happens all the time. People would much rather text someone their feelings or issues with someone than tell them face to face. This lacks the aspect of sincerity, respect, and common decency.

Autonomy can best be described as the ability to be a free thinker; that is, it goes beyond just being able to decide what to do and what to think. We argue that a defining characteristic of autonomy is that autonomous entities do not always determine the best course of action objectively, but also subjectively. In other words, humans have the ability to do not only what is right, but also what feels right.

“Automation is quickly becoming a part of high-consequence decisions. The mental health scholarship community and particularly forgiveness scholars are wise to understand the moral and practical implications of automation aided decisions and injustices. Automation cannot truly be forgiven or be held morally accountable.” (2017). With automation being such a big part of high-consequence decisions, people need to start taking accountability for taking the action to trust a computer.

To make things worse, it’s not just that the costs of physically repressing dissent are falling; it’s also that the ensuing social unrest will be less and less likely to harm the economic interests of elites. At the moment, the prosperity of the wealthiest members of society is deeply dependent on some degree of social harmony. They need their middle managers to show up to work, their secretaries to organize their calendars and their janitors to make meeting rooms look respectable. The further automation progresses, the less the prospect of social disorder or even a general strike matters to the world of the rich. So long as the robots can be relied upon to do their masters’ bidding, the economy can chug right along even in the face of an intensely hostile population.

At stake is not only the broad based prosperity to which society has long grown accustomed, but also the continued viability of the democratic system itself. Science fiction writers have imagined a dystopian future in which robots have freed themselves from the domination of their masters, enslaving the human race. From the perspective of political science, the more likely— and equally scary—scenario is that robots will indeed subjugate the mass of the population, but at the behest of a narrow elite of human masters.

As automation progresses, the elites’ cost of suppressing democracy will fall, while the costs of tolerating democracy (with rising risk of redistribution) will increase. With each passing day, elites’ will have a stronger reason to rebel against democracy rather than to accept that much of their wealth might be redirected to the increasingly large ranks of the destitute. Ultimately, then, society faces one of two scenarios: Either the political system will figure out a way to redistribute wealth in a way that preserves a middle class, or the political system will lose the capacity to redistribute wealth because it becomes completely controlled by elites.

The two in this article are very specific as to what might happen if automation is to continue as the rate it is going without regulation. “Over the last decades, the American economy has produced rapidly rising inequality—an inequality that has become even starker in the aftermath of the most recent recession. Since 2008, the overwhelming share of the country’s economic gains has accrued to a select few: to holders of advanced degrees; to people who work in management or finance; and to people who already own property, both physical and intellectual. Meanwhile, the wages of average citizens have continued to stagnate. Americans without highly valued skills or elite educations are finding fewer job opportunities. The jobs they do find are likely to be part-time, temporary and poorly compensated. Unemployment rates may be down, but the more telling statistic is that participation in the labor force has sunk to its lowest levels since the late 1970s. Now, only about 62 percent of working age people are in the labor force.” (2016). A huge problem now is that there are thousands of people going to school, going into debt because of student loans, and doing all this work; only to not be able to find a job in which they went to school for.

The fast-food industry is a great example. Most of the workers perform repetitive work that don’t take special skills, meaning that they may soon go the way of automation. The dilemma this poses for the left is real: low wages keep workers in poverty; high wages push workers out of their jobs. So long as the Democrats’ primary economic focus remains on decent paying jobs, this problem will remain.

For now, the material interests of wealthy Americans remain bound up with the maintenance of political order to a considerable degree. Support for democracy remains strong, even among elites (though the level of that support has declined steadily in recent decades). But as inequality gets worse, that shared investment may fade. In an increasingly automated economy, the many are not only poor; from the perspective of the rich, they are also for the first time in human history dispensable.

It is often argued that technological progress always leads to massive shifts in employment but that at the end of the day the economy grows as new jobs are created. However, that’s a far too facile way of looking at the impact of AI and automation on jobs today. Joel Mokyr, a leading economic historian at Northwestern University, has spent his career studying how people and societies have experienced the radical transitions spurred by advances in technology, such as the Industrial Revolution that began in the late 18th century. The current disruptions are faster and “more intensive,” Mokyr stated (2017). “It is nothing like what we have seen in the past, and the issue is whether the system can adapt as it did in the past.” (2017). The problem is that the United States has been particularly bad over the last few decades at helping people who’ve lost out during periods of technological change. Their social, educational, and financial problems have been largely ignored, at least by the federal government.

Not only might automation and AI prove particularly prone to replacing human workers, but the effects might not be offset by the government policies that have softened the blow of such transitions in the past. Initiatives like improved retraining for workers who have lost their jobs to automation, and increased financial protections for those seeking new careers, are steps recommended by Mokyr but there appears to be no political appetite for such programs. The economic anxiety over AI and automation is real and shouldn’t be dismissed. But there is no reversing technological progress. We will need the economic boost from these technologies to improve the lackluster productivity growth that is threatening many people’s financial prospects.

Even with regulations and laws in place (to prohibit and help keep automation stable), will automation crash democracy? No one knows for sure. No one will know until we get there. The effect of automation in the world could be catastrophic or amazing. Either way, there should be regulations so no one will be able to use this unbalanced technology. All of this talk of automation, robots and regulations is all theoretical. Just in case one day there is a robot that has the mind capabilities of a human. We need to protect ourselves. What happens when it gets mad? How strong is it? Is it capable of beating a human physically and mentally? As a good human beings, we like to think no one will intentionally create something that is smarter than humans. Nor do we even know if it is possible. If it is possible then for the safety of all of us, there needs to be regulations. There needs to be a protective cover over the middle class workers so they do not get thrown to the curb by automation.

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Automation Will Crash Democracy. (2020, Mar 20). Retrieved from