“Please Regulate Us!” Why we must accelerate the justice system, and fast
The future is bright.
But it rests on our shoulders to bring clarity into the present. And since most of the giant tech corporations persist in developing large scale artificial intelligence systems, despite the potentially detrimental danger they pose, we should move swiftly. More specifically, to usher in a new era of unprecedented freedom and prosperity, we must build AI with the power and capability to unshackle the justice system, enabling it to effectively enforce human-made laws and regulate AI-powered corporations.
It’s time to step forward and act, not out of fear or compulsion, but with a resolute conviction that our actions today can illuminate the path to a brighter future.
Taking technology out of human hands
Widespread technophobia has always existed. People will resist the new and unknown for various reasons. But those objections have usually turned out to be overreactions. Yes, if you look back at history, industrial and technological revolutions do dramatically change our culture and our economies, but it usually does not happen overnight, and most of us would argue that this change reflects a net positive and propels humanity forward. The apocalypse didn’t arrive when TV and mass media became a major part of our lives, nor did the four horsemen come and knock on our doors when we started driving automobiles en masse.
Whether technology is “good” or “bad” for humanity has always depended on how it’s regulated and how it’s used (or rather, who is using it). Technologists have developed tools for the betterment of humanity that can easily become weapons when placed in the hands of people who would misuse it. A knife can be used to make a sandwich, or as a weapon. A social media platform can be used for bringing people together or contributing to teenage depression and suicide.
But this time, things are very different. Previous technologies have never been capable of inventing new technologies or coming up with new ideas by themselves. This is the major difference with the AI revolution. The artificial intelligence that humans are currently developing does have that capacity. And if it goes unchecked, it may bring about an unprecedented level of catastrophe.
We’ve all witnessed the harm that rogue, small scale AI, can bring about: the rise of populist authoritarianism, the weakening of journalism, and the dominance of conspiracy theories in mainstream culture. It is now the scientific consensus that our information technologies are generating intensifying levels of polarization in human societies, an unprecedented reduction in human autonomy and growing mistrust between people and the institutions that govern their lives. The writing is on the wall.
We must do something
Doing nothing is no longer an option.Whether that something is a pause on developing AI systems altogether, or speeding-up regulation is currently in debate (though both seem unlikely to occur in any meaningful sense).
In a recent conversation with Yuval Noah Harari, Yann Le Cun, Facebook’s Chief AI Scientist, put it in simple terms:
“To deploy large scale AI systems in the open world, you need to be very careful about it. You need to do it slowly and under the scrutiny of governments and the public. I think the fall of societies that has been happening over the last decades is partly due to the fact that governments react slowly.”
His words may come as a surprise, especially coming from a high-ranking Facebook executive, one of the largest tech giants whose CEO notoriously coined the phrase “move fast and break things.” But the truth rings clear: no one is really being careful. Despite the urgent pleas from numerous influential figures in the field advocating for a six-month research pause, appeals have fallen on deaf ears. The race is well underway, resembling an arms race in every aspect. That is why it is imperative for us to take action. We cannot passively wait while well-intentioned scientists and business leaders (and perhaps some less well-meaning ones) put our societies at-risk.
Governments are too slow to keep up
Le Cun is essentially lamenting that governments do not act as swiftly as the multi-trillion dollar tech corporations they helped to establish. He’s not wrong, for the most part. But governments know how to act fast 一 they do so in matters of national security emergencies and global health crises. But in most other fields, the government serves us in a very poor manner in comparison to services in a competitive market.
Governments are just slow. Le Cun is basically saying: “It’s true that we’re destroying the world, but only because the governments aren’t stopping us fast enough.” In other words: ”Please regulate me, because I won’t regulate myself. There is a competition out there, and I will lose if I self-regulate.” That’s precisely what makes this an arms race.
“Please regulate us.” Well, here we come.
Tech can accelerate the justice system
Today, the justice system is far off from the ability to act in real time. Think about it for a second: How long does it take the government to stop a legal violation today? Very long, sometimes forever, if at all.
Take water contamination claims for example. In many cases, we may never even know any harm has been done. People get sick and even die, but most wrongdoers will never be brought to justice because we can’t easily link that harm to their actions.
Lawyers and advocates may try, but at the end of the day, they aren’t as big and well-funded as corporations on the other side. They don’t have access to the same data or investigative tools. Even in cases where we are sure that a bad actor has committed a violation, how long will it take to deter the wrongdoer so that they won’t do it again? Most violations will never be corrected or penalized. To be exact, over 75% of excess pollution cases by oil producers between 2019 and 2021 were never penalized. And the resolution is no picnic either, because administrative penalties are too small to effectively deter companies from polluting. What’s $30,000 in the face of hundreds of millions of dollars? So they keep doing it. It’s profitable for them.
Of course, this isn’t a specific problem of water contamination. Our justice system just isn’t keeping up. Violations are hard to detect; enforcement coverage is poor; the effect of enforcement can be too small to matter; and durations of proceedings just keep getting longer.
What can we do about it?
We need to ride the current wave of AI to accelerate our government’s ability to effectively regulate market participants. If everyone is continuing to speed up, why not enforce faster? AI could aid in discovering a legal violation the minute it occurs, because today most real world actions have a digital footprint.
It could help energize public enforcement through government authorities, increasing their coverage. And when that’s not enough, AI could augment private law firms fighting the good fight to file lawsuits against wrongdoers. If law firms and government agencies start using AI, the court system will have to adapt, cutting through the noise and shortening durations of court proceedings.
Of course, this won’t happen overnight. But it WILL happen 一 restoring the justice system to its role as the immune system of our markets and industries. When that happens, AI might become less catastrophic and more useful at protecting humans, strengthening our societies and institutions.
Imagine it: nurturing artificial intelligence with a profoundly human intelligence. A world in which technology helps us uphold our human values and protect our rights. It exists. Let’s bring it here.