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What Can Artificial Intelligence Teach Us About Political Polarization?

It’s become increasingly difficult to ignore the exponential progress that’s been made in the field of artificial intelligence. From self-driving cars to nearly flawless speech synthesis, things most of us thought impossible only a decade ago are now a practical reality. Virtually all of these developments have exploited what has turned out to be one of the most fruitful analogies ever made: that of the human brain to a computer. In particular, the development of neural networks—arguably the most successful family of artificial intelligence models—was explicitly inspired by the structure and function of the brain.

For about a decade, we’ve exploited the brain/computer analogy by drawing inspiration from the brain to build better and better AI systems. But now that our technology has in many respects caught up to, and even exceeded, human performance, it’s worth asking the question in reverse: what insights can we borrow from artificial intelligence, to better understand our own brains and reasoning processes, and how they can go wrong? As it turns out, there are quite a few, and they go a long way toward explaining the breakdown of cross-partisan communication and unwillingness to engage with opposing viewpoints that have characterized our political arena in the age of #MAGA and #MeToo.

So let’s embrace the analogy, and think of our brains as computers built on a substrate of cells rather than silicon: they consume, process, and store data. There’s a limit to how much data they can store, however, and the amount of information they’re exposed to vastly exceeds that limit. Luckily for us, our brains have found a way around this problem, and it’s called data compression. Rather than remembering each and every noise that two politicians made during a political debate, for example, our brains distill the sounds they hear down to a reduced representation of the exchange, that we end up retaining as a “take-home message,” “lesson,” or “memory,” depending on the context. And these form the basis of our opinions.

In computer science and artificial intelligence, the process by which a highly complex body of information (every sound that reaches your ears during a one-hour political debate) is converted to a simple semantic representation (like, “candidate X won the debate, and I dislike candidate Y’s tie”) is called “dimensionality reduction.” Dimensionality reduction is what allows us to take controlled sips from the information firehose that’s pointed in our direction during every moment of our existence.

The problem with dimensionality reduction is that it tends to leave us with “memories,” “lessons,” and “take-home messages,” but little or no ability to recall what facts those memories or lessons were really based on. Although we’d like to think that our opinions are formed by coherently adding together the raw data that we’ve observed, in practice we end up doing something much less rigorous. First, we encounter a fact, then we distill that fact into a memory or lesson, form an opinion, and then, in general, we forget the fact. We’re then unlikely to change this opinion even if the fact upon which it is based is subsequently disproven or updated, because the connection from fact to opinion was lost when dimensionality reduction occurred.

We’re then left with only our nascent opinion, which we’re all too keen to reinforce thanks to confirmation bias. As we seek out sources of information that support our initial hunch, our opinion becomes more and more entrenched. This is part of the reason why political discussions can be so contentious: rather than argue about how to best add up the facts (which we generally don’t remember), it’s easier to lob opinions at one another in the hope of overpowering our peers by sheer force of will.

For example, imagine browsing your Twitter feed, and encountering an article with a headline proclaiming that “Jane Smith launched into an anti-human tirade during a recent campaign rally.” It won’t take your brain long to convert that raw data into an opinion. And that opinion, more likely than not, will be something like, “Jane Smith is bad person.”

A few weeks pass, during which you hold on to your opinion about Jane Smith, but forget the original reason that you formed that view. Now imagine that your friend tells you they’re excited to vote for Jane Smith because they heard her speak, and found her stance to be very pro-human. You recoil: how could your friend support such a morally bankrupt human being? Dimensionality reduction has caused you to lose track of the fact that your opinion of Jane Smith was formed entirely as a result of a claim that has now been disputed. Rather than engage with the claim, you’re more likely to engage with the opinion. So concludes the full cycle of pathological opinion formation via dimensionality reduction: encounter fact, form opinion, forget fact, fail to update opinion when fact is challenged or disproven.

This cycle is all the more treacherous because we regularly form our views without reference to facts at all, and instead adopt the opinions of others in our peer group without doing our own homework. Because of dimensionality reduction, opinions formed in this way often seem just as important—and just as reliable—as those we form by examining actual facts ourselves. In essence, as we forget the process by which we came to form our opinions, we fail to treat them with due skepticism. If we’re lucky, this failure is pointed out to us eventually, our brains throw an error, and we find ourselves in the position of a college protester who realizes they don’t actually know what disagreements they have with the speaker they’ve been chanting slogans at all evening. If we’re unlucky, we go on with our lives none the wiser, and continue to build our picture of the world atop this shaky foundation.

Fortunately, there are measures that each of us can take to keep the excesses of dimensionality reduction in check. Unfortunately, they all require a potentially uncomfortable dose of humility. Dimensionality reduction guarantees that none of us is ever truly playing with a full deck. As a result, the certainty with which most of us hold onto our opinions is rarely justified. Recognizing this is our first and best defense against irrational stubbornness, and the risk of losing ourselves in a rabbit hole of confirmation bias.

At the end of the day, any good faith effort to understand the world will require us to be vulnerable, and lay out the facts on which our opinions are based while inviting others to question their accuracy and completeness. This takes patience, and a willingness to challenge our innate tribal tendencies, and it’s no silver bullet. But it can allow us to move beyond quibbling over opinion, and onto a deeper and more substantive type of discussion, from which we stand to gain a better understanding of our own views, and the real reasons that we disagree with others.


Jeremie Harris is a physicist, turned machine learning engineer. He is the co-founder of SharpestMinds, a Y-Combinator backed company that connects aspiring data scientists to professional developer mentors who invest in their future success. You can follow him on Twitter @jeremiecharris


  1. Geneviève O'Sullivan says

    A timely and very interesting article. We have lost the ability to have respectful hard conversations. Political correctness is stifling healthy debate. A nice reminder to each of us to check our own tribal tendencies and prejudices before attributing intent to others. How different is our current blame and shame model from the Chinese who are using tech to shame and rate their citizens?

  2. E. Olson says

    A very rational (machine like) analysis of human cognitive limitations. Unfortunately, it makes an assumption that most people wish to have their viewpoints shaped by rational arguments and an unemotional presentation of facts. This assumption is very problematic for Leftist viewpoints that are most often based on emotion and distorted “facts”, which puts them in a very untenable position when debating someone on the Right whose viewpoints are more solidly based on real-world empirical facts and rational arguments. This is demonstrated by the many recent attempts by Leftist activists to violently shut-down conservative/libertarian viewpoints on campuses, in politics, and the media, because they don’t want any challenges to their viewpoint that all social/economic problems and inequities are caused by white patriarchy and Right leaning political parties, and all solutions involve Leftist government policies designed to correct the “unfairness” of capitalism and democracy. If they were to actually be confronted with strong evidence that show most inequities are caused by cultural and IQ differences between individuals and groups, or that virtually all Leftist governments are only successful at making everyone equally miserable and poor, they might be forced to admit that empathy, good intentions, and “good feelings” are very poor substitutes for actual successful results.

    • dellingdog says

      “Virtually all Leftist governments are only successful at making everyone equally miserable and poor.” I think you’re demonstrating the author’s point. There are vanishingly few Marxists in mainstream liberal politics. The left wing of the Democratic Party (represented by Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez) advocate social democratic policies along the lines of Scandanavian countries, not the abolition of private property. You can argue that Denmark, Sweden, Finland and Norway are not viable models for the U.S. to follow given the massive differences between us and them, but it’s obviously not true that Danes, Swedes, Finns and Norwegians are “miserable and poor.” (In fact, all four countries rank in the top 10 of the world happiness index.) Instead of engaging in a good-faith conversation about the relative merits of different policies, you’re making sweeping and unsubstantiated statements about everyone who holds progressive opinions. To cite two prominent counter-examples, both Sam Harris and Bill Maher have liberal views on most issues but are staunch advocates of free speech who despise political correctness. Is it possible that Jeremie Harris was referring to people like you? — “the certainty with which most of us hold onto our opinions is rarely justified. Recognizing this is our first and best defense against irrational stubbornness.” Of course, extreme leftists are equally strident and intransigent; they attack caricatured versions of right-wing views instead of applying the principle of charity to their opponents. Despite how vocal they are online and on college campuses, they don’t represent all (or even most) progressives. (For evidence, see the “Hidden Tribes” report recently issued by the More in Common initiative.) I would encourage you to seek out articles written by thoughtful leftists (yes, they exist) and read them with an open mind. You might be surprised.

      • E. Olson says

        The Scandinavian countries are not socialist. They did flirt with socialism during the 60s to the 90s, which caused their economies to sag badly, but they saw the errors of their ways and today by most measures they have freer economies than the US. True socialism examples are provided by Venezuela, Cuba, North Korea, China (to some degree), former USSR, post-war UK and France, where major industries or the entire economy is nationalized, and the government exerts heavy control over all aspects of citizenry life. The USSR, UK, and France collapsed/nearly collapsed due to socialism and have moved to freer markets to varying degrees, and China has also adopted freer markets to successfully ignite growth although still with one party rule and many government run firms. I invite you to demonstrate any country in history that has adopted socialism and been successful over an extended period of time. It is also important to point out that while Scandinavia is currently the “socialism” flavor of the month among US socialists, Bernie Sanders, Sean Penn, and other leftists were until recently praising Venezuela as a model for the West, and Bernie honeymooned in the USSR.

        • dellingdog says

          I never claimed that the Scandanavian countries are socialist; they’re democratic socialist. Virtually all modern countries have mixed economies with a combination of free markets and socialist elements (e.g., public schools, public libraries, Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, fire and police departments, the military). The question is whether we’ve achieved the proper balance.

          Please provide evidence that *any* mainstream liberal believes that we should follow the model of Cuba, North Korea, the USSR or China. Sanders is about as far left as contemporary Democrats go. During the primary campaign he said, “When I talk about democratic socialism, I’m not looking at Venezuela. I’m not looking at Cuba. I’m looking at countries like Denmark and Sweden.” And he “explicitly disavowed any ideological sympathy with Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez, whom he described as a “dead communist dictator.” I’m sorry, but you’re attacking straw men that have no connection to reality.


          • E. Olson says

            Thank you for the link – it seems my statement about Sanders and Venezuela were incorrect based on poorly research media reports. I don’t need to provide you with any examples of mainstream liberals who follow the Venezuela model because your link does it for me – Sanders apparently hasn’t admitted to admiring Chavez, but the article shows many others who did. Your defense of Sanders is also damning because Sanders continues to admire the “socialist” Sweden from the 1980s when they were rapidly heading towards Venezuela status by running out of other people’s money to spend, but I’ve never heard him admiring the deregulation, welfare reducing, and tax cutting of more recent Sweden. Bernie should watch the following video.


          • dellingdog says

            “Even at this relative high-point of Chavez’s popularity [in 2004], Kucinich was the only U.S. Representative to publicly praise Chavez’s regime and condemn U.S. policy towards Venezuela specifically.” Do you think it’s intellectually honest to claim that all or most progressives advocate state socialism when only one elected Democrat representative is on record praising Chavez? Would I be justified in holding all conservatives responsible for the statements of the most extreme and unhinged Republican politician? Obviously not.

        • E. Olson, you are a parody of the “right”, sorry. Both sides have problems with different parts of reality that collides with their ideology. You obviously have quite a warped view of reality too.

          UK and France nearly “collapsed” ? Seriously ? Privatisations happened in the 80s under the neoliberal influence. Both of those countries were doing fine and their public corporations were very productive. So much that after the privatisation, French state monopolies became world leaders in their sector.

          Then, disastrous short term profit seeking and failed strategies ruined some of those companies (others are still very prosperous today). Alcatel went “Apple style”, become a pure tech player and closing factories, they were eventually bought by Nokia and then by Microsoft. Alstom closed its R&D labs that created the TGV to put a handful of researchers in every engineering department, this lead to a total lack of innovation and a death spiral of mediocrity with all the brilliant engineers leaving the company. Companies like the train monopoly SNCF are bloated with too many employees, but they are not failed companies. Meanwhile, Saint Gobain, Veolia, Total, EDF, Engie and many other children of state monopolies are still doing extremely well.

          I really don’t understand the parallel universe you live in to think that the UK and France were collapsing when they started the privatisation of public companies in the 80s.

          • E. Olson says

            Sure you can pick and choose a few success cases, but nobody was investing in the UK or France during the “socialist” periods. UK unemployment prior to Thatcher liberalizations were rapidly climbing, and French unemployment during much of the 80s and 90s was over 10%. Privatization of public companies was done to earn money for the failing state or save the companies from the burdens of public ownership, and hence cannot be deemed signs of leftist success.

    • dellingdog says

      “Leftist viewpoints … are most often based on emotion and distorted ‘facts’, which puts them in a very untenable position when debating someone on the Right whose viewpoints are more solidly based on real-world empirical facts and rational arguments.” You can only make this claim by presupposing that your positions on contested issues are correct. You’re making the same kind of “problematic assumption” which you accuse Harris of making. However, acknowledging this would require “a potentially uncomfortable dose of humility” and “a willingness to challenge our innate tribal tendencies.” Are you willing to listen and possibly learn from people who disagree with you, or are you completely convinced that you already have all the answers?

      • E. Olson says

        I invite you to correct me – show me the error of my positions. It isn’t people like me that are trying to get people fired, or violently confronting people, or calling people names just because they disagree with me – those tactics aren’t necessary when you have the facts on your side.

        • dellingdog says

          Again, you’re blaming all progressives for the actions of extremist activists. If I were to employ the same rhetorical tactic I could hold you responsible for the behavior of white supremacists and neo-Nazis. It’s difficult to take your claim that conservatives don’t “call people names just because they disagree with me” seriously while Donald Trump is President. The demonization of political opponents has been an explicit part of the Republican playbook since the ascendance of Newt Gingrich in the early 1990s. Right-wing radio and websites routinely disparage people on the left, as do conservative commenters on websites this this.

          Regarding your “facts, not feelings” claim, I could make a strong argument that mainstream liberals hold more rational positions on tax policy (very few economists accept the supply-side dogma), climate change (I’m sure you reject the consensus view of climate scientists — but nevertheless, it persists), voting rights (concerns of in-person voting fraud are vastly overstated, e.g. Trump’s completely unfounded claim that 3 million people voted illegally in 2016), criminal justice reform (countries the focus on prevention and rehabilitation rather than retribution have far lower recidivism rates), illegal immigration (undocumented immigrants are less likely to commit violent or property crimes than native-born citizens, not more likely), abortion and assisted suicide (in my view, the idea that “life is sacred” from conception to natural death is a theological doctrine), gay rights (there’s no rational basis to deprive gays and lesbian of equal protection under the law), health care reform (countries with single-payer systems spend significantly less of their GDP on health care, cover everyone and have better outcomes), science education (creationism is an explicitly religious view that has no place in public school science classes), etc. I’m sure you would dispute most if not all of these claims, but these are clearly contested issues with plausible arguments on both sides. You’re begging the question by assuming that your views are more reasonable and that liberals rely exclusively on emotional appeals.

          I’d encourage you to read this analysis of Ben Shapiro by Nathan J. Robinson: https://static.currentaffairs.org/2017/12/the-cool-kids-philosopher. I’m sure you won’t agree with Robinson’s critique, but he engages with the substance of Shapiro’s positions from a leftist perspective.

          • E. Olson says

            Good link – I have no problem with a discussion on issues and Robinson raises some legitimate points on Shapiro, but he also is guilty of cherry picking and shifting topics to make a point. For example, Shapiro points out that blacks who finish high school, work full-time and marry before having children are almost certain to not live in poverty, but Robinson criticizes this statement by shifting to a discussion of differences in wealth between blacks and whites that he attributes to slavery and Jim Crow. Shapiro is talking about things people can do to earn enough income to not live in poverty, but Robinson chooses to not address those points and hence shifts to wealth differences caused by historic injustices to blacks. At the same time he dismisses historic injustices to Jews and Asians, perhaps because they have somehow overcome terrible injustices to much more often finish school, find full-time work, and marry before having children (and hence rarely live in poverty). This is a general pattern of argument on the left – to argue about things that cannot be changed or to argue for positions that clearly don’t work. Today’s non-black citizens are not responsible for Jim Crow or slavery and there is no time machine that can erase whatever lingering effects they might cause current generations. It is also clear that Leftist policies that promote victim status and reparations are not only unjust, but also not helpful to the people such policies are supposed to help. None-the-less, it would certainly be very interesting to see a live discussion on left-right issues between Robinson and Shapiro (or Murray whom he also unfairly disparages), where each could counter-point each other’s points in real time, but such debates are very rare because the left consistently tries to shut down discussion they don’t like, and members of the left are also the mostly likely to turn down such an invitations. If you believe that the violent protesters and “resistance” to the likes of Murray and Shapiro appearing on campuses are “not representative” of the left, then perhaps the “mainstream” left such as Maxine Waters, Hillary Clinton, and Eric Holder should be policing their own crazies instead of encouraging them.

            As to your own examples of “mainstream leftist rational facts – your arguments on taxes and climate are all based on the leftist fallacy that science is a popularity contest – it doesn’t matter if 97% of economists/scientists think something is true, what counts is that their models prove to accurately predict. Leftist economists may dislike trickle down economics, but high taxes and heavy government regulations are not associated with strong economic growth in any economic models I have seen, and none of the “mainstream” climate models from the last 20-30 years have predicted the lull in temperatures over the last 20 years despite ever increasing CO2 emissions. On voting rights it seems very strange that the Democrats are so reluctant to investigate fraud if it is such a small concern – you are perhaps not aware that 2016 recount attempts in Michigan found several Detroit precincts with more votes than registered voters (funny how it only happens in heavily Democrat precincts). Criminal justice reform is also interesting, as Trump is showing more interest in it than Obama or Clinton, but most analyses of US prison populations finds that common stories telling of the (mostly black) guys in prison for only having a joint are pure myth. The best analysis of prison populations also finds a disproportionate share of illegals in prison, but it is very interesting that there is so much effort on the part of Democrats to hide the residency status of prisoners to make such analysis difficult – it is also interesting that illegal immigrants aren’t counted as law-breakers when they are in the country illegally. The right’s position on abortion, assisted suicide, and gay rights are not universal in any single direction, but the common ground shared by nearly all is that policy on the matters should be determined by voters in individual states. It is the left, however, that goes to court to over-ride the vote of the citizens when they vote the “wrong” way. Single payer seems to work in other countries because: 1) they get all the US paid for innovations in drugs and treatments for free (free-rider problem), 2) too many US citizens live unhealthy lifestyles (obesity, etc.) which depresses health statistics, 3) racial differences account for health outcome differences – i.e. blacks and Hispanics in the US live longer than blacks in Africa or Hispanics in Latin America, but not as long as Japanese in Japan or Swedes in Sweden (but Japanese and Swedish Americans outlive their Japanese and Swedish counterparts), 4) statistics are not counted the same way – child birth mortality rates are lower in the US counts because preterm births are counted in the death rate unlike most other countries, 5) US hospitals are much better equipped with technology and US healthcare professionals are paid a lot more than counterparts in W. Europe (who increasingly rely on 3rd world doctors and nurses because the poor pay does not attract citizens), and 6) malpractice lawsuits and “defensive medicine are a much bigger cost in the US (mostly due to Democrat opposition to tort reform). Single-payer in the US will not solve the obesity problem or the racial health disparity problem, and if effective at cutting costs will almost certainly kill life saving medical innovation, lead to medical professional shortages, and bankrupt hospitals. But since governments are rarely efficient it will likely lead to higher costs and lower service quality (i.e. VA quality care). Thus I do agree with you that there are two sides on most of these issues, and also that two sides are needed to keep each other honest and from going corrupt, but it isn’t the right that attempts to stifle debate – its purely the emotional left.

          • dellingdog says

            Thank you for engaging with the substance of my post. I don’t think it’s worthwhile to debate the specifics any further (if you disagree, please let me know), but this is precisely the kind of conversation that needs to take place if people on the left and right are going to move beyond overheated vitriol. For the record, I’m a strong supporter of free speech who is completed opposed to the heckler’s veto and disinvitation. Lots of classical and traditional liberals share my view. Incidentally, Nathan J. Robinson has publicly offered to debate Shaprio, who has declined to accept the offer. https://www.currentaffairs.org/2018/08/stray-thoughts-ben-shapiro-bad-arguments-in-the-atlantic

  3. Circuses and Bread says

    I have mixed thoughts about this article. On the one hand I think it has some wise words about behaviors we should try to avoid. And I think that’s good advice. However the article really missed the forest for the trees in its application of AI to politics.

    AI is a politics-killing app. It has the promise of rendering politics largely irrelevant over time.

    Let me give an example. We currently spend a lot of time and resources and political efforts on building roads. Deciding if they’ll be built, where they’ll be built, which group of people will be taxed to pay for them, etc. So how is that elaborate political construct going to be relevant in an age of flying taxi transportation? The problem with flying vehicles is largely a traffic one; they have to not fly into each other 99.99999999999999999999999%+ of the time. There is no way that humans are going to be able to provide the air traffic control at scale. AI is going to provide the solution. How is politics going to have a meaningful say in how that technology works? Humans won’t be able to understand the details of the technology, let alone be able to apply their “woke” or “unwoke” political views to it.

    Want another example? Visionaries are already working on building self sustaining, scalable communities. One particularly intriguing group is developing open source tech to build relatively simple, ecologically friendly machines for self sustaining communities (opensourceecology.org) It’s not too far of a leap to imagine AI pairing up with these sorts of efforts. So what relevance do nationalist or globalist politics have to an off-the-grid, self-sustaining community that needs few inputs from outside? Answer: not much.

    • dellingdog says

      I think most political debates involve competing moral visions and divergent interpretations of data. It’s not clear to me how AI could resolve these issues.

  4. Greg Maxwell says

    AI. Political polarization.
    How can artificial intelligence make us better – more rational – analyzers of facts? That’s what I got from this article. But we don’t really need AI to accomplish the aim of being more objective and restraining our natural impulse to jump to bias. The means of analysis are trivial to the underlying issue – why does political polarization happen at all? Political polarization is a high-speed wobble that represents an issue nearly beyond peaceful resolution. Conflict is the source of political polarization – conflict over perceived need for resources. Human brains are well-developed to be rational or there wouldn’t be AI in the first place. But humans are animals and also driven by passions and fears. So what the AI will tell us is – You are humans and while you have great capacity for reason and good, you are also subject to stupid, and they aren’t separable.

    I don’t think the tool of AI will add any more light to the notion that there are too many people demanding more resources than we produce – conflict.

    • Circuses and Bread says

      @Greg Maxwell

      You make a great comment about humans not being computers. One thing I wanted to ask about though is this resource demand issue. I think that’s going to be less of an issue, at least in first world countries.

      If AI is doing the work, the mining, and producing the goods that we use, then are resources really that big of a deal? Of course, resources are always finite in the theoretical sense. But if we can start doing things such as extreme recycling, mining landfills, etc. due to dramatic reduction of labor costs then wouldn’t that largely eliminate the problem?

      Said another way, if most of the stuff I use at home is 3D printed from recycled junk, and the rest mined or produced by automation, there doesn’t seem to much reason for resource based conflict.

      • Greg Maxwell says

        Sure. You man be right. We may be there in 50 years with replicators or some other technology. But we may go through a major population lowering event first.
        It’s hard to express the complexity in a post and so I used “resources” very generally and population generally as well. I think there’s a belief that simply having enough rice to feed x number of mouths, or enough electrical power to meet all demands, for example, means we don’t have mal-distribution. I tend to look at it backwards making my comments. If you see conflict, then you can infer a dispute over product or resource distribution – otherwise conflict doesn’t occur (for the most part). I believe that most of the economically developed economies’ disputes are largely fights over who controls product or power. Power because it gives control to access resources. But look at the current state of the world – why are AI necessary to create the efficiencies you suggest? If AI can do it we can do it – but in a lot of ways we don’t. US economy looks very prosperous, but there objectively seems to be an expanding distance between the elites and the non-elites. And then you get into the variable of expectations – which is a whole other can of worms.

        I don’t know. Maybe AI and technology will lead to a more democratically prosperous world.

  5. Farris says

    Would mankind willing subject itself the judgments of an intelligent computer? I find myself doubtful. Wouldn’t the computer eventually be considered racists or biased towards one set of facts by those who ultimately disagreed with its decisions? How would having a computer reach conclusions prevent people from rejecting facts in favor of their own biases?
    Wouldn’t the computer be accused (whether true or not) of possessing the biases of the programer or the society in which it was created? Why would people suddenly begin accepting decisions they perceive contrary to their own interests or ideals, simply because the decisions were rendered by a computer? Those who claim they would accept the judgments of a non biased computer would change their tune as soon as a pronouncement did not conform with their own notions. Without conflict of ideas wouldn’t mankind stagnate? Personally I don’t think oracles will work.

    • E. Olson says

      Google search engines already show a demonstrated leftist bias, because they are programmed by leftists.

  6. “So let’s embrace the analogy, and think of our brains as computers built on a substrate of cells rather than silicon…’

    Let’s do the opposite: let’s shoot this threadbare and manipulative analogy in the head and admit we have no actual clue what goes on between our ears, go from there.

    The whole “human mind computer” schtick is really starting to feel like a “wishing for to make it so” campaign, a narrative attempt to lock thinkers into a mechanistic endpoint on cognition and consciousness when no one knows that is the case. It strikes me as intellectually dishonest, and I”m getting sick of this ?

  7. > From self-driving cars to nearly flawless speech synthesis, things most of us thought impossible only a decade ago are now a practical reality.

    Sorry, but what? You claim that self-driving cars and decent speech synthesis are practical realities, but that’s totally unfounded. Self-driving cars are practically never used and only on extremely limited shuttle routes going really slow. And if we have practical decent speech synthesis, how come it isn’t used by major mapping products or for generating audio books?

    • Freely available speech synthesis is reasonably good. I use it for audiobooks sometimes. And cutting edge tech demos of next gen speech synthesis is really really good. But yes, it’s not perfect, especially for emotional intonations.

      • My objection is to calling it “nearly flawless” and “practical”. Demos may seem good but not be good indicators of what’s readily usable – tech often has the property that getting 90% of the way there is easier than developing the next 9%.

  8. Dai Anto says

    I am constantly astonished at the apparent naivety of many proposing IT solutions. Self driving cars? Great. What about the massive expenditures various levels of government will need to accommodate them?

    A number of firms have already expressed interest in self driving trucks with a view, in the long run, to eliminate drivers. The transportation industry in North America is the single largest employer. It is an industry where an individual with a lower level of education can make a decent wage. Has it occurred to those in IT that tens of thousands of people who lose that decent wage may be a case of civil unrest?

  9. Denis Leonard says

    Simplistic, overly generalized, and unconvincing. However, it does create a great opportunity for the wannabe contributers among the ranks of the commenters to strut their stuff.

  10. Roy Coleman says

    “What Can Artificial Intelligence Teach Us About Political Polarization?”
    Virtually nothing Jeremie (unless of course at least all the neurological variance of the voters in a population, their FFM distributions and life experiences were accounted for)
    Perhaps you could indicate why this wouldn’t be NP-hard?
    “..our technology has in many respects caught up to, and even exceeded, human performance”
    Care to name an AI that has been awarded a Mathematics Prize? Or one that can recognize the voices we do out of the several billion on the planet?
    Sorry but you seem to be marketing a dangerously false equivalence.

  11. Philip Fahringer says

    Interesting article and associated comments! Honestly, I think AI can teach us a lot regarding our true nature and preferences and exposing our personal and societal biases and hypocrisies.

    Recently I have been struggling with the challenge of how to reconcile what people say they want vs. what they actually do. For instance (and I realize the following is vastly oversimplified for brevity) – most people say their health is very important – diet is known to be extremely important to health – most people don’t have a healthy diet – obesity and obesity related diseases are at record levels and are increasing.

    I’m certain that if people input into an AI algorithm what their health preferences were regarding minimizing disease risk, and maximizing healthy outcomes and asked for a recommended diet (and even allowing some flexibility for splurge options) – it would be far different than what they actually choose; BUT it would be a far more healthy diet and more consistent with what people say they want.

    So…what if we could input into an AI algorithm what our preferences were for our lives and our society. Could an AI algorithm then select the candidates or better yet the set of candidates in any given election that had the greatest combined alignment to help align governmental actions to our stated personal and societal objectives? I suspect that this could be done, but my biggest fear is, if revealed, what we would learn people say regarding what they really want.

    • You first would have to prove that a change in diet would lead each person to a happier, better life. Humans are awesome because they are not simple machines with only one size fitting all. You might like feeling deprived, doing cleanses and fasting, while others would not. That you place longevity high on desired listings, others may not and prefer risk-taking, living the fast life, etc.
      An AI can only achieve a “better decision” if some human first tells it what “better” means.
      Are more humans living longer really better for Earth, better for young workers, better for taxpayers?

  12. How does AI tease out nuance, hyperbole, false statements, inflammatory statements, authority/credentials…? You can feed it every tweet, but if you don’t balance the words based on who said it and whether the statements are true or jokes or the like, you’d mal-educate your AI.

  13. X. Citoyen says

    There’s definitely something algorithmic about polarized politics, but your analogy is flawed. It’s not that we compress data but how we compress it that causes polarization. Jill doesn’t spit at Jack because she reduced his dimensionality from some x to some x-prime for storage purposes, but because she sorted him into her mental category misogynist after he said something that sufficed to categorize him as such. So you have cause and effect backwards: People don’t get polarized because they reduce the dimensionality of others; they reduce the dimensionality of others because they sort the world through a polarized lens.

    Still, I think you could have fun with AI and political theatre.

  14. Pingback: Podcast #4 | Discussione molto divertente con Max sul Pericolo dell’A.I. – Intellect Memento | Blog & Podcast

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