Deciding How to Decide: Six Key Questions for Reducing AI’s Democratic Deficit

Part of the Digital Ethics Lab Yearbook book series (DELY)


Through its power to “rationalise”, artificial intelligence (AI) is rapidly changing the relationship between people and the state. But to echo Max Weber’s warnings from one hundred years ago about the increasingly rational bureaucratic state, the “reducing” power of AI systems seems to pose a threat to democracy—unless such systems are developed with public preferences, perspectives and priorities in mind. In other words, we must move beyond minimal legal compliance and faith in free markets to consider public opinion as constitutive of legitimising the use of AI in society. In this chapter I pose six questions regarding how public opinion about AI ought to be sought: what we should ask the public about AI; how we should ask; where and when we should ask; why we should ask; and who is the “we” doing the asking. I conclude by contending that while the messiness of politics may preclude clear answers about the use of AI, this is preferable to the “coolly rational” yet democratically deficient AI systems of today.


Artificial intelligence Max Weber Legitimacy Bureaucracy Public opinion Digital ethics 



Josh Cowls is the recipient of a doctoral scholarship from The Alan Turing Institute.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Oxford Internet InstituteUniversity of OxfordOxfordUK
  2. 2.The Alan Turing InstituteLondonUK

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