This paper is cross-posted from MIT’s Exploration of Generative AI series grouped under the Social Implications of AI. The abstract and excerpts from the introduction are included below. Read the series introductions by MIT’s president online.


Online discourse faces challenges in facilitating substantive and productive political conversations. Recent technologies have explored the potential of generative AI to promote civil discourse, encourage the development of mutual understanding in a discussion, produce feedback that enables people to converge in their views, and provide usable citizen input on policy questions posed to the public by governments and civil society. In this paper, we present a framework to help policymakers, technologists, and the public assess potential opportunities and risks when incorporating generative AI into online platforms for discussion and deliberation in order to strengthen democratic practices and help democratic governments make more effective and responsive policy decisions.

1. Generative AI for Pro-Democracy Platforms

In an era where opinion is a mouse click away, online discourse has become the defining crucible of contemporary ideas and ideologies. While social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook, and Reddit have shaped how we currently think of open discourse, these noisy, sprawling public squares are far from intentional, deliberative assemblies focused on solving problems. To paraphrase Taiwan’s Minister of Digital Affairs, Audrey Tang, trying to have a political conversation on Facebook is like trying to have a political conversation in a nightclub. In parallel to the rise, critique, and study of social media platforms and their effects on society, there has been a push toward building, studying, and deploying intentional technologies, including generative artificial intelligence (AI), to assemble individuals to share opinions on policy questions online and converge on recommendations. These ‘deliberative platforms’ use tools and technologies that surpass standard survey platforms by explicitly soliciting diverse perspectives on a given question, surfacing key comments for further examination by the participants and in some cases leading to collective decision-making.

These endeavors also extend beyond conventional methods of public deliberation. Historically, governments and communities have relied on approaches such as in-person town halls and open comment periods for regulatory decisions to enable citizens to share opinions and deliberate about policy issues. Outreach to citizens has been associated with higher trust in government and more citizen cooperation and engagement. New online deliberative platforms promote themselves as technologies that can achieve these goals faster and at a larger scale, with less human bias and lower costs.

These new technologies have already changed the nature of what is possible in how discussion and deliberation on policy issues are achieved, and interest in experimenting with ways of integrating generative AI is now growing. Features of the first generation of these platforms range from open commenting, upvoting, and simple polling to organizing assemblies and participatory budgeting. Some platforms go even further, taking citizen opinions and using machine learning techniques to generate visualizations of the opinion space for users, such as areas of agreement, disagreement, and structural features intended to promote compromise or consensus.

These innovations raise important questions about how best to design these technologies and integrate generative AI so that they uphold individual rights and serve democratic objectives. How do we make sure that online platforms are themselves democratic as well as helpful to the overall democratic system? Given our values and objectives, the most promising directions involve developing these technologies to meet our current challenges such as polarization, mistrust, and democratic backsliding. In the following sections, we offer a framework for how to think about designing pro-democratic uses of generative AI, assess the opportunities and risks of current technologies in terms of this framework, and identify the most promising directions for integrating generative AI to support online discussion and deliberation.

2. A Framework for Pro-Democratic Generative AI and Deliberative Technologies

As citizens in a shared polity, we want online platforms to help us communicate our views to each other and arrive at wise collective decisions or recommendations. As with all technologies that affect the public, we want them to be transparent and accountable to the public. But what values and principles must we remain sensitive to if we want to design online platforms that take advantage of AI and other technologies to enable civic participation and discussion while also strengthening democratic societies? How do we make sure such platforms are pro-democratic and protect individual rights and political equality for all? At a minimum, our political traditions of liberal, republican, and democratic thought require us to design platforms that preserve user agency and autonomy; encourage mutual respect; promote fairness, equality, and inclusion; and augment our capacities for active citizenship rather than diminish them.


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