Democratizing cognitive technology: a proactive approach

Ethics and Information Technology 21 (4):267-280 (2019)
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Abstract

Cognitive technology is an umbrella term sometimes used to designate the realm of technologies that assist, augment or simulate cognitive processes or that can be used for the achievement of cognitive aims. This technological macro-domain encompasses both devices that directly interface the human brain as well as external systems that use artificial intelligence to simulate or assist human cognition. As they hold the promise of assisting and augmenting human cognitive capabilities both individually and collectively, cognitive technologies could produce, in the next decades, a significant effect on human cultural evolution. At the same time, due to their dual-use potential, they are vulnerable to being coopted by State and non-State actors for non-benign purposes or in manners that violate democratic values and principles. Therefore, it is the responsibility of technology governance bodies to align the future of cognitive technology with democratic principles such as individual freedom, avoidance of centralized, equality of opportunity and open development. This paper provides a preliminary description of an approach to the democratization of cognitive technologies based on six normative ethical principles: avoidance of centralized control, openness, transparency, inclusiveness, user-centeredness and convergence. This approach is designed to universalize and evenly distribute the potential benefits of cognitive technology and mitigate the risk that such emerging technological trend could be coopted by State or non-State actors in ways that are inconsistent with the principles of liberal democracy or detrimental to individuals and groups.

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