Your Local Community is an Asset

Community Asset

Liberal society depends on strong local communities and coherence between those communities.

“What can liberal scholars do to ensure that the future is freer than the world today?” Ideas in Progress host Dr. Anthony Comegna asked faculty partner Dr. James Caton. Dr. Caton, assistant professor in the Department of Agribusiness and Applied Economics at North Dakota State University, led the graduate student Discussion Colloquium: ‘Artificial Intelligence and Liberal Futurism’. To answer this question, Dr. Caton spoke on the role of community.

Following from a previous conversation on the podcast, Dr. Caton provided an example of a technology that is particularly concerning: facial recognition. He highlighted a study about the omniscience of cameras and that one’s mere existence out in the world is public information.

Dr. James Caton

Human rational systems have errors and artificially-intelligent rational systems have errors. Depending on the environment, they can be better or worse.

–Dr. James Caton

Dr. Caton expressed his pessimism about what kinds of constitutional protections are available for facial recognition in public, particularly with technology that is not always capable of accurately detecting a person’s features. Full trust in these systems and the experts of artificial intelligence could have consequences.

Part of the potential problems with these advancements, Dr. Caton argued, could be exacerbated by increased empowerment of central governments.

“In the liberal society you technically don’t have to be part of a community, which means you don’t have to be monitored,” Dr. Caton said. “If you’re in a community, you have more monitoring within the community than if you’re not.”

When people value their membership within a community, there is more shared accountability. They have the incentive to behave ethically, as they are more critical of what those actions and the adoption of these new technologies could mean within their local community.

While considering the graduate students who attended the Discussion Colloquium that are interested in this field of research, Dr. Comegna asked how liberal futurism could be translated into a practical research agenda.

Local governance, Dr. Caton said, is a worthy topic of research. He referenced James M. Buchanan’s work which argued that the liberal society depends on strong local communities and coherence between those communities.

If we have strong local communities with strong, well-developed moral norms, we might be a little more careful about these developments, or we might ask more questions about the second order effects of the practices that we’re engaged in.

–Dr. James Caton

Dr. Comegna left the listeners with a final thought on their conversation.

“The future may never be the result of human designs,” Dr. Comegna said, “but it will always be the result of human actions.”

For the full episode (Episode 25: Classical Liberalism and the New High Weirdness), visit SoundCloudiTunes, or Stitcher. Each Wednesday, we release new episodes from our Ideas in Progress podcast on divisive topics with contemporary thinkers.

Interested in participating in an IHS program? Find out more about our discussion colloquiafaculty, and graduate programs, as well as our funding opportunities.

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