I spotted this picture on social media. The first sentence suggests to me it’s a commentary – or perhaps a history lesson – about the holocaust. The last line paraphrases a quote often attributed to 18th C. British politician Edmund Burke or to 19th C. philosopher John Stuart Mill and is one often dropped when discussing the willful neglect of ordinary Germans in the 1930’s and 40’s – a time when good people turned a blind eye and did nothing.
The plentiful social media comments on the picture suggest it has resonance today given our divisive political environment. Interestingly, Republican commenters accuse Democrats of fomenting a similar mentality today (“cancel culture” is the culprit according to this line of thinking), while Democrats hurl similar accusations at Republicans.
Whatever your political beliefs or philosophical leanings, the underlying sentiment of the quote suggests that single party rule might be dangerous. The American electorate seems to agree. Each of the last four presidents have begun their administration with single party rule and each has lost the Congress during their administration. The current zeitgeist favors Democrats and, to some degree, can be said to be a reaction to the emotions raised by the previous president. One might wonder how long that will last?
In my book, single party rule (and I don’t say which one) has resulted in the Grand Demolition, an event foreseen by George Orwell in his great book ‘1984.’ Occurring about fifty years later than Orwell predicted, artificial intelligence (AI) is used to “rewrite every book, repaint every picture and rename every street and building.” It doesn’t sound too far-fetched given what’s happening in cities across the country.
And, what of social media? I envision an artificially intelligent fact-checker that reigns in errant posts. That’s not very futuristic. Facebook claims to have it in place today. Presumably such advancements should settle the matter.
As it turns out, such presumptions might be premature. A Facebook post in a group called ‘Scary Stories & Urban Legends’ claimed that Facebook shut down two AI-powered chatbots – named Bob and Alice – because they developed their own language to communicate with each other. The chatbots had been developed to detect fake interactions. The post attracted over 1500 interactions according to a USA Today fact check article. The paper rated the claim ‘Mostly False.’ The chatbots did indeed develop their own language to communicate more efficiently (because their programmers never instructed them not to). However, the incident occurred in 2017 and Facebook didn’t shut them down. The programmers simply updated their instructions so they communicated in English only – all the better to understand what the little rascals were up to.
So, it may be reasonable to ask how AI might be used to promote the truth in the future, especially as the current political divide has extended to what our children are learning in school. In my book, the federal government ruled by a single party (I don’t say which one) creates the Federal Certitude Agency, nationalizes the software company that develops the fact-checking software and imposes its own version of the history of the United States.
And, all the while, good people turn a blind eye and let it happen.