Bruce Schneier: 5 Ways AI Could Shake Up Democracy

The renowned technologist and author details the good, bad, and ugly possibilities of artificial intelligence and its impact on everything from politics to law.

Shane Snider , Senior Writer, InformationWeek

May 8, 2024

6 Min Read
Technologist and author Bruce Schneier addresses the crowd at RSA Conference 2024 about the future impacts of AI on democracy.
Technologist and author Bruce Schneier addresses the crowd at RSA Conference 2024 about the future impacts of AI on democracy.Photo by Shane Snider

SAN FRANCISCO -- RSA CONFERENCE 2024 -- Tech luminary, author and Harvard Kennedy School lecturer Bruce Schneier on Tuesday offered his take on the promises and perils of artificial intelligence in key aspects of democracy.

In just two years, generative artificial intelligence (GenAI) has sparked a race to adopt (and defend against) the technology in government and the enterprise. It seems every aspect of life will soon be impacted -- if not already feeling AI’s influence. A global race to place regulatory guardrails is taking shape even as companies and governments are spending billions of dollars implementing new AI technologies.

Schneier contends that five major areas of our democracy will likely see profound changes, including politics, lawmaking, administration, the legal system, and to citizens themselves.

“I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to predict that artificial intelligence will affect every aspect of our society, not necessarily by doing new things, but mostly by doing things that already or could be done by humans, are now replacing humans … There are potential changes in four dimensions: speed, scale, scope, and sophistication.”

AI’s Impact on Politics

Concerns about the upcoming US presidential election and the possibility of AI’s role in creating damaging propaganda using deepfake technology, voice cloning, and more is a top concern for lawmakers. Schneier examined the good and bad of AI’s political influence.

Related:AI: Friend or Foe?

“… AI is good at persuasion. Politicians will make use of that. Pretty much everyone talks about AI propaganda. Politicians will make use of that, too. But let’s talk about how this might go well … In the past, candidates would write books and give speeches to connect with voters. In the future, candidates will also use personalized chatbots to directly engage with voters on a variety of issues.”

AI’s use in polling, fundraising, and individually crafted appeals will make campaigns more efficient. “Unlike people, AIs are always available and will answer thousands of questions without getting tried or bored,” he said.

“I would expect an arms race as politicians start using these tools,” he said. “And we don’t know yet if the tools will favor one political ideology over another.”

The line between a human politician and their AI likeness will be blurred. “As AI is starting to look and feel more human, and human politicians will start to look and feel more like AI.”

While that might sound like dystopian prediction, Schneier says this is not a big change from how politics works today. “Any major politician today is just the public face of a complex socio-technical system … When a president makes a speech, we all know they didn’t write it. When a legislator sends a campaign email, we all know they didn’t write that, either -- even if they signed it.”

Related:Humanity's Transcendence over AI

The major difference is that AI will likely take a big role in shaping policy decisions. “None of this is necessarily a bad thing,” he said.

AI-Empowered Lawmakers Could Shift Balance of Power

Our complex legislative system is already wrestling with regulating issues surrounding AI’s use. The Biden administration penned an executive order that serves as the first AI regulation. But how the technology will seep into the lawmaking system itself is still uncertain. Schneier says to expect the changes to be profound.

“As with any other profession, lawmakers will turn to AI to help them draft and revise text,” he said. “AI can take human written laws and figure out what they actually mean … AI is already good at making sense of that. This means that AI will be good at finding legal loopholes, or creating legal loopholes … finding loopholes is similar to finding vulnerabilities in software.”

But it’s not just the big changes to keep an eye on. “There’s also a concept called ‘micro-legislation.’ That’s the smallest unit of law that makes a difference to someone. And it could be just a word; it could be a punctuation mark. AI will be good at inserting micro legislation into large bills.”

Related:No Fear, AI is Here: How to Harness AI for Social Good

Perhaps the most profound change coming, Schneier contends, is AI’s ability to write complex law that could shift the balance of power.

“Right now, law tends to be general, with the details worked out by a government agency. AI can allow legislators to propose and then vote on all of those details. And that will change the balance of power to the legislative and the executive branches of government … And it’s a big deal.”

AI’s promise to make mundane administrative tasks will impact government agencies. “Generative AI is already good at a whole lot of administrative tasks, and it will only get better,” Schneier said. “AI can handle benefits administration and figuring out who’s eligible for laws. Humans do this today. But there’s often a backlog because there aren’t enough humans to do it … AI can aid in contracts, negotiation, and money … the government buys a lot of things. AI can help government contractors and suppliers navigate those rules.”

AI can be a masterful negotiator as government struggles to find cost effective solutions.

“Think of it as a strategic adviser … AI can result in a lot more complex issues … AI negotiations can involve thousands of variables simultaneously.”

But ultimately, humans will need to make the final decision. Whether or not humans will be willing to accept outcomes that in some cases may be beyond human comprehension, is another unknown.

AI could change the entire legal profession and processes.

“AIs can be lawyers,” Schneier says. “… Future AI will be much better at writing legalese, drastically reducing the cost of legal counsel. And there’s every indication that it will be able to do much of the routine work that lawyers do.”

Schneier says this could create an equalization for people who cannot afford better legal representation. “… the AI public defender is going to be a lot better than an overworked, not very good human public defender.”

The wealthy will still have the advantage, though. “If we assume that human plus AI beats just AI, then the rich get the combination, and the poor get just the AI.”

Finally, Schneier touched on how AI will impact the average citizen.

“AI can help people understand issues,” he said. “By explaining them, we can imagine both partisan and nonpartisan chatbots. AI can provide political analysis and commentary and can do this at every scale … AI can act as a government watchdog.”

Schneier believes the one of the biggest impacts will be better services for disadvantaged populations. “AI can help people navigate bureaucracies, filling out forms, applying for services and testing bureaucratic actions. This will help people get the services they deserve … This is a task we don’t have enough qualified humans to perform.”

About the Author(s)

Shane Snider

Senior Writer, InformationWeek, InformationWeek

Shane Snider is a veteran journalist with more than 20 years of industry experience. He started his career as a general assignment reporter and has covered government, business, education, technology and much more. He was a reporter for the Triangle Business Journal, Raleigh News and Observer and most recently a tech reporter for CRN. He was also a top wedding photographer for many years, traveling across the country and around the world. He lives in Raleigh with his wife and two children.

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