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Against “Democratizing AI”

Johannes Himmelreich

AI & Society: Knowledge, Culture and Communication, January 2022

Johannes Himmelreich

Johannes Himmelreich

This paper argues against the call to democratize artificial intelligence (AI). Several authors demand to reap purported benefits that rest in direct and broad participation: In the governance of AI, more people should be more involved in more decisions about AI—from development and design to deployment. This paper opposes this call.

The paper presents five objections against broadening and deepening public participation in the governance of AI. The paper begins by reviewing the literature and carving out a set of claims that are associated with the call to “democratize AI”. It then argues that such a democratization of AI (1) rests on weak grounds, because it does not answer to a demand of legitimization, (2) is redundant in that it overlaps with existing governance structures, (3) is resource intensive, which leads to injustices, (4) is morally myopic and thereby creates popular oversights and moral problems of its own, and finally, (5) is neither theoretically nor practically the right kind of response to the injustices that animate the call.

The paper concludes by suggesting that AI should be democratized not by broadening and deepening participation but by increasing the democratic quality of the administrative and executive elements of collective decision making. In a slogan: The question is not so much whether AI should be democratized but how.

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