In 1988, James Hansen, head of the Nasa Goddard Institute for Space Studies, told a US Senate committee: “The greenhouse effect has been detected, and it is changing our climate now.” Thirty-five years later, the US government is at last trying to do something about it. The political trajectory with artificial intelligence is similar. Alan Turing, the scientist who formulated the concept of AI, predicted in 1951: “At some stage . . . we should have to expect the machines to take control.” Only now is this notion entering mainstream political debate.
In short, democracies tend either to act too late, or quickly but stupidly. That’s suboptimal, especially as life speeds up. AI advances almost weekly, while viruses can cross the planet on a plane. Some people think the solution is autocracy. It’s true that dictators can act fast, but they generally act in their own interests. Overall, they have achieved even worse long-term outcomes than democracies. So how can we make democracies faster and smarter? Let’s start with how they typically handle problems: