Governance of Pandemic Response by Artificial Intelligence


Anthony Judge | Laetus in Praesens – TRANSCEND Media Service

Control of Human Agents Unconscious of AI-Elaboration of Communication Scripts?


5 Jul 2021 – There is no lack of authoritative references to the future role and impact of artificial intelligence (Artificial Intelligence Industry 2021, ReporterLinker, 2021; Joanna J. Bryson, The Future of AI’s Impact on Society, MIT Technology Review, 18 December 2019; Ashley Stahl, How AI Will Impact the Future of Work and Life, Forbes, 10 March 2021; Darrell M. West, How artificial intelligence is transforming the world, Brookings, 24 April 2018).

The role of the OECD in anticipating this is especially noteworthy (OECD Recommendation of the Council on Artificial Intelligence, OECD/LEGAL/0449, 22 May 2019). It already features in various UN initiatives as reported to the 2018 AI for Good Global Summit (United Nations Activities on Artificial Intelligence (AI), ITU, 2018).

The potential relevance to the pandemic is evident in the focus on “artificial intelligence in healthcare“. This term is used to describe the use of machine-learning algorithms and software, or artificial intelligence (AI), to mimic human cognition in the analysis, presentation, and comprehension of complex medical and health care data (WHO issues first global report on Artificial Intelligence (AI) in health and six guiding principles for its design and use, WHO News, 28 June 2021; WHO guidance on Artificial Intelligence to improve healthcare, mitigate risks worldwide, UN News, June 2021).

The latter notes that WHO’s Ethics and governance of artificial intelligence for health report points out that AI  is already being used to improve the speed and accuracy of diagnosis and screening for diseases; assist with clinical care; strengthen health research and drug development; and support diverse public health interventions, including outbreak response and health systems management. It recognizes that AI could also empower patients to take greater control of their own health care and enable resource-poor countries to bridge health service access gaps.

Less obvious are the simpler manifestations of AI in enabling virtual gatherings, most notably of world leaders and decision-makers, as has been evident in the organization of recent summits, including the General Assembly of the United Nations in 2020. These possibilities could be understood as heralding a major revolution (Forthcoming Major Revolution in Global Dialogue, 2013; Envisaging the AI-enhanced Future of the Conferencing Process, 2020; From Zoom Organization to Zome Configuration and Dynamics, 2020).

As a consequence of such enhancement, less evident, and far more subtle, will be the role of AI in manipulating the manner in which information is presented to facilitate human comprehension, most notably in processes of governance. These may indeed enable new forms of collective intelligence — with unforeseen possibilities for collective organization. These may well contrast dramatically with the constraints and limitations of such experiments as the European Commission’s Conference on the Future of Europe (2021), partially inspired by the unprecedented Great National Debate in France in 2019 (Multi-option Technical Facilitation of Public Debate: eliciting consensus nationally and internationally, 2019).

The question explored here is the extent to which the impact of artificial intelligence on global governance has already had an unforeseen (and unacknowledged) role in relation to the strategic response to the global pandemic — and potentially to the manner in which that pandemic has been framed. Using AI, might the sophisticated analysis of the global condition already be conditioning evaluation of disease fatal to human beings? Such questions go the heart of the process of data gathering, model-building, formulation of recommendations, and the design of more effective methods of implementation than have been evident in the past.

Much has been made of the problematic role of misinformation as engendered and purveyed through global communications. The complicity of many has been variously cited and challenged in a global blame-game within which clarity and trust have been progressively eroded. The Facebook–Cambridge Analytica data scandal, and its role in enabling the Brexit outcome, is one example of this. It has given heightened focus to the ethical dilemmas associated with AI. Whilst Brexit is an instance of AI-enabled fragmentation of regional institutions, the response to the pandemic could be explored  as an instance of its role in enabling an unexpected form of global consensus.

Such manipulation is also susceptible to sophisticated modelling with AI, if not intrinsic to it — as with the interventions which might exacerbate or mitigate its effect. In that light the pandemic indeed merits exploration as being in some measure an artificially induced memetic disease (COVID-19 as a Memetic Disease — an epidemic of panic, 2020).

Given the supercomputer resources now available, especially to secretive intelligence agencies, it is indeed appropriate to ask how these might be applied in governance of the pandemic response — especially given the intensifying competition between nations of the G7 and of the G20 (Neil Savage, The race to the top among the world’s leaders in artificial intelligence, Nature, 9 December 2020; Kirsten Gronlund, State of AI: Artificial Intelligence, the Military and Increasingly Autonomous Weapons, Future of Life, 9 May 2019). For Gronlund:

As artificial intelligence works its way into industries like healthcare and finance, governments around the world are increasingly investing in another of its applications: autonomous weapons systems. Many are already developing programs and technologies that they hope will give them an edge over their adversaries, creating mounting pressure for others to follow suite.

These investments appear to mark the early stages of an AI arms race. Much like the nuclear arms race of the 20th century, this type of military escalation poses a threat to all humanity and is ultimately unwinnable. It incentivizes speed over safety and ethics in the development of new technologies, and as these technologies proliferate it offers no long-term advantage to any one player.

Irrespective of the widely documented issues of cyberwarfare, the pandemic might however be recognized as part of a process of memetic warfare (Tom Ascott, How memes are becoming the new frontier of information warfareThe Strategist: Australian Strategic Policy Institute, 19 February 2020; It’s Time to Embrace Memetic WarfareDefence Strategic Communications of the NATO Strategic Communications Centre of Excellence, 2015; Missiles, Missives, Missions and Memetic Warfare: navigation of strategic interfaces in multidimensional knowledge space. 2001). As argued by Johan Galtung with respect to physical violence versus structural violence, cyberwarfare could be appropriately understood as being “for amateurs”.

However it is in the implementation of the current response by authorities to the pandemic that subtle traces of the manner in which governance is effectively designed by AI are evident. To what extent have humans already become agents of AI, articulating scripts designed by AI, and eliminating critical thinking that does not conform to those scripts? Does this ensure a perverse form of cognitive “herd immunity” — understood as a closed-minded form of human groupthink? Does AI now determine a form of cognitive gerrymandering whereby misinformation is defined?



Anthony Judge is a member of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace Development Environment and mainly known for his career at the Union of International Associations (UIA), where he has been Director of Communications and Research, as well as Assistant Secretary-General. He was responsible at the UIA for the development of interlinked databases and for publications based on those databases, mainly the Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential, the Yearbook of International Organizations, and the International Congress Calendar. Judge has also personally authored a collection of over 1,600 documents of relevance to governance and strategy-making. All these papers are freely available on his personal website Laetus in Praesens. Now retired from the UIA, he is continuing his research within the context of an initiative called Union of Imaginable Associations. Judge is an Australian born in Egypt, a thinker, an author, and lives in Brussels. His TMS articles may be accessed HERE. (Wikipedia)

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

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