The lives of many people today have improved immeasurably compared to the past. On average, income and life expectancy have increased, and extreme poverty has declined. Yet, progress has been extremely uneven.
In principle, genuine social progress is high on the agenda of civil society worldwide. This can be seen in street protests and new political movements. There is also growing awareness that human security – social, economic, environmental, and political – underpins any chance of achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
For genuine social progress to take place, it is vital to guarantee a diversity of voices when key decisions are being made. Enabling communication rights is a step towards greater inclusion and participation. Digital communication technologies can help, but as always they come with drawbacks. The latest relate to automation and machine learning.
By January 2023, ChatGPT, the popular chatbot from OpenAI, was estimated to have reached 100 million monthly active users, just two months after its launch, making it the fastest-growing consumer application in history. ChatGPT can fabricate articles, essays, poetry, online content –and disinformation and lies. It is the ultimate scrutineer of digital texts.
Yet, as a Poynter Opinion (9 February 2023) adds, “Here is just some of what ChatGPT does not do: research, fact-checking, or copyediting at a minimally adequate level. Indeed, ChatGPT is proof that finding ‘truth’ is a lot trickier than having enough data and the right algorithm.” And its use raises urgent ethical questions concerning data ownership, plagiarism, and even the future of journalism.
Such is its commercial allure that Google owner Alphabet Inc announced it would launch its own chatbot service called Bard, and Microsoft rolled out a premium Teams messaging service powered by ChatGPT that will generate automatic meeting notes, recommend tasks, and help create templates for Teams users. Clearly, this is just the tip of the iceberg.
Computers and AI taking over the world is the stuff of science fiction, although control and censorship of information and communication have been with us for centuries. To tackle the pros and cons of today’s digital world, we need principles based on social justice. What are they?
- Access: Ensuring that all members of a community have equal access to media and its technologies, as producers as well as consumers.
- Participation: Prioritizing the participation of people who have been traditionally excluded from media and prevented from exercising their communication rights.
- Common ownership: The creation of knowledge, tools, and technologies that are free and shared openly with the public.
- Healthy communities: Creating spaces in which people can investigate community problems, generate solutions, communicate, and organize together.
Communication, equity, dignity, security, and freedom from discrimination are fundamental to societies that are more egalitarian, based on our shared humanity.