How do we get rid of racism, misogyny, ethnic, belief system, and sex role bigotry? This, of course, assumes that you want to get rid of those things. If I had made this statement four years ago in America or among most moderately educated people there would have been questions about that assumption even being a question. Yes, lots of places are still filled with various forms of bigotry but the secondary argument was over which of these battles had already been won at least in the post industrial societies.
Things are different now. A particularly obnoxious subculture of bigots realized that they had a shot at ending and even reversing two hundred years of moral advance. And they had a political party in America and were refurbishing previously discarded ones in Europe and other places to demand a return to organizing human society on the basis of hatred and greater suffering rather than less. The steady movement to diversity, open borders, and a planetary perspective powered by open trade and reduced militarism was suddenly under attack by people we all thought were no longer a threat.
It was a sudden and unexpected kick in the privates. Trump being manipulated into the US presidency was the ultimate insult added to shocked injury. BREXIT and Trump seems to have been the worst of it with the damage, to date, mostly localized in the US and GB. That is not to minimize the risks, particularly with a mentally challenged psychopath such as Trump still in office, and continuing pockets of xenophobic reaction in Hungary and Poland, but the weight is still on the side of progress and active diversity.
The biggest problems are old problems of dogmatic and economic oppression due to religion and radical capitalist greed in the middle east, Africa, and elsewhere. It doesn’t, I think, take a very hard look to find bigotry and hatred in the underlying economic problem of greed and accelerating asset misallocation. After all the poor are considered hateful creatures with no rights in states driven by greed as the preeminent virtue. There are other preexisting problems.
Russia has the Putin problem but the bigger challenge is China that is coming into an era of global dominance. China doesn’t need to necessarily change politically as the old 18th century semi representative governmental systems are failing rapidly, but they do need to get on the right side of diversity. China’s problems flare up when they treat minorities badly whether ethnic or sexual. They are at a critical point for this that could cripple China’s new role as world leader. The educated youth of China need to make this change and it’s just not clear yet how that will happen. But these were known problems before the sudden western minority lurch into darkness.
The problem theme through both the larger existing issues and the new reactionary lurch backward is the problem of irrational bigotry and the use of hatred as a political tool with the goal of defining the ‘other’ to be oppressed and abused. So how do we get rid of this for good?
Could the answer be technology?
We are on an accelerating roller coaster of technologically driven paradigm change. That is well understood. Or maybe not?
We have been struggling with a flood of social and political change driven by social media for the last five years. The Arab Spring that really wasn’t. Iranian demonstrations. Obama’s great election wins were actually early examples. But these have been countered by Russian troll farms for election manipulation neatly grabbed by a shrinking Republican Party in the US, alt right low grade outrage and white supremacy. The examples of repressive government shutdown of the internet as an ultimate tool of free expression in Turkey. And, of course, the great Chinese fire wall that seems to be moving to more extreme repression of their LGBT population.
Obviously, despite early naiveté, technology and planetary internetworking is not an automatic force for good. We are coming to understand, not for the first time, that technology forces great change but it is a tool whether for good or evil.
But the constant mistake in the discovery that bad shit can happen because of our new and very cool, tech tools is to think that it is all over and what was once all good is now all bad. No, that is a mistake and change continues to accelerate. Things have just started to change.
We are dealing with partially developed social media and the old style of centralized government as completely authoritarian can only be produced in small, isolated peninsulas. Historically we know what happens when isolated people see what others have. It can be ugly but it forces the old to change quickly or be destroyed. We are still seeing this in the remnants of 20th century totalitarianism in Russia and its bordering states. And we are seeing it very clearly in the new generation that was born on an internetworked planet. That is a force to be reckoned with as the struggling 20th century politicians in America have just discovered in facing the students from Stoneman Douglas High School. Needless to say they had their asses handed to them in ways they didn’t even understand.
Machine Learning as a force for good
Autonomous cars and trucks are here. We are struggling in the mass media (yes, there still is such a thing) with sensor algorithms and the logic of intelligent devices all around us.
For those who have been paying attention there is major worry about AI based legal assistants implementing racist algorithms in sentencing support applications. The number of embarrassing descents into bigotry right out of 4chan by ML systems providing human conversational interfaces have produced many sleepless nights. We are learning that this stuff isn’t easy. But people are beginning to recognize that bias can probably only be eliminated by intelligent agents properly trained to identify and remove biased language. This is beginning to be developed for HR as hiring is an obvious weak point. Google is working on this and a number of other applications are in early deployment.
I’m willing to bet that this will come much faster than people think. And, as it is worked out, the realization is going to grow that we actually are developing the tools to eliminate bias and resulting bigotry and that will be with our implementation of Machine Learning. We can’t correct our human limitations for bias and ingrained attitudes that we don’t even recognize. Intelligent system can do for us with careful algorithm design including checks and balances.
It’s difficult but I don’t see any other way that relies only on people. We are our own weakest link.