Why is the constitution a technology (and how to repair it)?

First published in the Malon Constituyente, from Chile Científico.

This work was also edited by journalist and peer-reviewed by different professionals, and the product of that workshop was translated by myself.

Imagine that one day someone comes to your house and knocks on the door. It’s a state official, with a small device in his hand, closer to a tablet or a very thick mobile phone. This device runs an advanced artificial intelligence which, during each election, crosses all the citizens’ data and looks for who best represents the country or region at a given time. The officer tells you:

“You are the average voter”

And then an interview begins to find “the human factor” on this occasion. Based on the information you, and only you, provide, the algorithm will define all the results of the election of representatives.

This situation is the premise of the story “Universal Suffrage” (1955) by the Russian-American author Issac Asimov. He invites us to imagine a reality in which democracy is reduced to statistics and algorithms, and resembles recent proposals to automate our deliberative processes (such as those proposed by the physicist César Hidalgo) [1]. In this story, artificial intelligence is the protagonist of the electoral process. This does not happen because it is necessarily better, but because another technology contains the rules that make it so that in that reality only the “average voter” is able to express the human factor. That technology is the Constitution.

We are surrounded by objects and systems that allow us to perform tasks. Some are physical like a mobile phone, a car, a chair, or a hospital; while others are immaterial like an application, an urban transport system, an industrial production chain, or the constitution. Technological systems, material and immaterial, are interconnected and interrelated in many ways.

The constitution

With this new perspective, that the constitution is also a technology, I would like to propose that a new constitution for Chile has to avoid three common technological problems to repair democracy: Determinism, Solutionism, and technological dependence. As citizens have more access to emerging technologies, the technical and political dimensions of our systems, devices, devices, and procedures will become more evident. Each of us has repeated these three technological biases in our daily discussions, and so it is a risk that our future constitution will repeat them and enshrine them among its statements and proposals.

First, technological determinism is to assume that technology is the central factor in our relations and that it defines totally or partially what can be done. Artificial intelligence, like that of the fairy tale, promises to transform the relations of industrial and cultural production, displacing millions of people from their jobs. Despite the fact that these systems have been proposed and studied since the 1950s by cybernetics — an area of knowledge dedicated to the automation of processes. Since the last decade, they have been reborn, which has even catalyzed discussions about their regulation in Chile [2] and the world because of the potentialities and threats they present.

However, as with all technology, not everyone has access to or the ability to design and develop artificial intelligence, and it is people in companies, universities, and institutions who define when and how it is used. The paths and consequences that these technological transformations will have are played out day by day, and we are unable to know with certainty how they will impact the lives of Chileans.

Believing that the future will be a consequence of the development of artificial intelligence (or any other technology) is about simplifying the complex relationships we have with our artifacts. A constitution must recognize these possibilities, particularly when politically these technologies can be promoted or restricted, such as the campaigns to ban facial recognition — an application of artificial intelligence — in the United States.

On the other hand, technological solutionism corresponds to establishing technical procedures as fair answers to social problems. A commonplace is the impact of digital technologies on education. Digital or online learning, which has become enormously popular as a temporary solution to the challenges of the pandemic, and which has not been able to deliver quality education in many cases, despite the projections of many world experts since the 1990s [4].

All technology must be assessed in its social, geographical, and temporal context, and recognize its effect on communities, in particular, the material and cultural inequalities that many cities and towns have. In this case, remote, rural, island, and indigenous communities have restricted access to internet connectivity, violating their opportunities and human rights as well as their rights to expression and education, as has been denounced on many occasions.

The constitution will articulate the principles of how the state is organized, as well as the duties and rights of citizens and their basic institutions. Access to the internet is usually a common form of solutionism, such as transferring state procedures only to the internet or encouraging the development of municipal or financial apps, among others. But its risks and problems have recently been observed in Chile [5.6]. The constitution will define what we understand to be rights in Chile today and what role the state has to take over.

A final risk is a technological dependence, which is understood as the inability of a country or region to meet its basic needs on its own. Here, cases such as food sovereignty — which the desertification and historical droughts in Northern and Central Chile constantly risk [7] — and the stability of the energy matrix — which a little more than a decade ago was at risk when Argentina cut off Chile’s gas supply [8] - are recent examples of how the state fails to ensure the long-term well-being of its communities.

Here, elements of scientific capacity, public investment, and centralization are intertwined and articulated in the constitution. Why can’t the state make its own public enterprises like other countries? Why don’t regions manage their own budgets? What infrastructure should each city have to be resilient to future changes? Questions like these, which have been coming up for the worse since the government of Pedro Aguirre Cerda and the creation of CORFO, are where a new constitution can offer new paths. Ensuring the technological independence of our development model, which includes everything from exports to our personal data, begins with the principles, values, and responsibilities that may or may not be present in our constitution.

The constitutional discussion has also been full of these three biases throughout this mysterious year: those who argue that “only if the constitutional changes will the country change” are those who take a deterministic position; the idea that “a modern constitution will alleviate presidentialism or corruption” is a solutionist position; those who say “the constitution should only be in line with international treaties and our past commitments” are those who fall into an irremediable dependency.

A constituent moment is an opportunity to rethink ourselves as a country, to question our past decisions, and to take responsibility for our mistakes. Do we have the best property system for ideas or natural resources? Do we only need to have three powers in the state? What is the place of the armed forces and the native peoples in our future? Are blood and land the only acceptable conditions for citizenship? After this constituent plebiscite, we have a historic window to redesign and re-evaluate our most fundamental political-legal relations and institutions.

In conclusion, by looking at the constitution as a technology, we begin to see how the various principles, values, rights, and duties draw the paths of the possible and the desirable. Like other technologies, its limits are not restricted only to those who write or design it, but by the experience of all who live with it, today and tomorrow. Our 1980 constitution reproduces mechanisms of social, economic, and environmental inequality that are unsustainable and unworthy.

Technological Determinism, solutionism, and dependence are obstacles to making our institutions, cities, and jobs decent and equal. A nation that thinks about the future must recognize in the constitution its role in shaping our country, the central infrastructure that articulates our public and private systems, where our common history crystallizes, where we all become equal and free. As the intellectual Naomi Klein summarises, “Community is the best technology”. [9]

Sources:

  1. Cesar Hidalgo, 2018. A bold idea to replace politicians. TED Talk https://www.ted.com/talks/cesar_hidalgo_a_bold_idea_to_replace_politicians
  2. Ministerio de Ciencia, Tecnología, Conocimiento e Innovación. 2020. Política Nacional de Inteligencia Artificial. https://www.minciencia.gob.cl/politicaIA#:~:text=La%20Pol%C3%ADtica%20Nacional%20de%20Inteligencia,sobre%20sus%20consecuencias%20legales%2C%20%C3%A9ticas%2C
  3. Ban Facial Recognition Campaign, 2020. https://www.banfacialrecognition.com/
  4. Kukso, Federico. 2016. Tecnofilia v/s tecnofobia. https://unioninformatica.org/tecnofilia-versus-tecnofobia-el-nuevo-campo-de-batalla-cultural/
  5. Gustavo Balmaceda and Alex Martinez, 2020. Ataque informático al banco Estado. Diario Constitucional. https://www.diarioconstitucional.cl/articulos/ataque-informatico-al-banco-estado-la-precariedad-de-la-ley-chilena/
  6. Cristian Miranda. 2020. Vulneración de character crítico: expertos en cyberseguridad aseguran que hackeo a Gobierno Digital afecto a 5 millones de usuarios. El mostrador https://www.elmostrador.cl/noticias/pais/2020/10/16/vulneracion-de-caracter-critico-expertos-en-ciberseguridad-aseguran-que-hackeo-a-gobierno-digital-afecto-a-cuentas-de-5-millones-de-usuarios/
  7. Francisca Fernandez et al. 2020. Del Agronegocio a la agroecología. El Desconcierto. https://www.eldesconcierto.cl/2020/04/16/del-agronegocio-a-la-agroecologia-produccion-agricola-escasez-hidrica-y-construccion-de-alternativa/
  8. Francisca O´Ryan y Gustavo Orellana. 2019. A una década de la crisis compras de gas argentino se acercan a GLC. La Tercera https://www.latercera.com/pulso/noticia/argentina-explica-casi-40-gas-natural-importado-chile-lo-va-del-ano/691996/
  9. Naomi Klein, 2020. The years of Repair. The Intercept. https://theintercept.com/2020/10/01/naomi-klein-message-from-future-covid/

土 龍 Oscilando desde 1988 / Oscilating since 1988