With artificial intelligence taking more and more roles in society, crunching all those Big Data numbers we produce, this lengthy Scientific American essay raises its worries and concerns about the health of democracy once society is run entirely by algorithms. Much like Facebook's filter bubble — which "surrounds users with content confirming their worldview" — a democracy controlled by computers could ultimately become "a totalitarian regime with a rosy cover" or worse, be hacked for political or economic gain.
Everything started quite harmlessly. Search engines and recommendation platforms began to offer us personalised suggestions for products and services. This information is based on personal and meta-data that has been gathered from previous searches, purchases and mobility behaviour, as well as social interactions. While officially, the identity of the user is protected, it can, in practice, be inferred quite easily. Today, algorithms know pretty well what we do, what we think and how we feel—possibly even better than our friends and family or even ourselves. Often the recommendations we are offered fit so well that the resulting decisions feel as if they were our own, even though they are actually not our decisions. In fact, we are being remotely controlled ever more successfully in this manner. The more is known about us, the less likely our choices are to be free and not predetermined by others.
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