News

May 17, 2024: Podcast Zákulisí sociologie (Behind the Scenes of Sociology)

Martin Buchtík and Klára Zajíčková from STEM Institute for Empirical Research invited me to talk about LLM chatbots, their use cases in social scientific research, and our AI Institutional Transformation Research Group. You may listen to the podcast here (in Czech). 

April 22, 2024: Invited lecture on GenAI-Facilitated Institutional Innovation

The Institute for Information Studies and Librarianship (Charles University) has invited me to deliver a lecture on democracy in the digital age.  My lecture explores the current challenges faced by liberal democracy, which has previously enabled unprecedented growth in human prosperity. The main issues addressed are the rise of political polarization and authoritarianism. The lecture examines these developments through the lens of behavioral political economy, questioning the role played by information technology in this context. With the rapid emergence of artificial intelligence, understanding this question has become particularly urgent. The lecture takes place against the backdrop of these technologies' increasing influence on democratic processes and discourse, seeking ways to harness the power of technology to facilitate democratic innovations.

April 8, 2024: An interview about life, democracy, and AI

Alena Ivanova has interviewed me about my research and views on democracy in the digital age and the expected impacts of artificial intelligence. You can find the interview here (in Czech). 

Here is how Claude 3 summarizes the content:

Petr Špecián, founder of the AI Institutional Transformation Research Group, says his career trajectory changed forever after attending philosophy lectures by chance while studying international trade. His research now focuses on how institutions adapt to new technologies like large language models and their practical applications, as well as the relationship between democracy and expertise in the digital age.

Špecián notes that technological development is moving extremely rapidly compared to institutions, which adapt more slowly, creating tension. He says liberal democracy developed stably when mass media was the broadly shared information source, but the proliferation of decentralized information sources today makes it harder for people to agree on a shared reality, putting pressure on democracies.

On whether AI benefits or threatens democracy, Špecián sees a range of possible scenarios, from finding new norms leading to better democracy, to AI enabling authoritarianism or chronic stagnation. He emphasizes that AI is not value-neutral, as the corporations developing it imbue it with progressive values not everyone shares.

Špecián is interested in whether elected representatives could use AI chatbots to replace expert advisors and better ensure democratic values shape collective decisions. While AI still "hallucinates" false information, he sees good prospects for improvement. He believes people will adapt to AI-generated disinformation, though it's unclear if solutions will be centralized or decentralized.

Overall, Špecián advocates for personal experience using advanced AI systems to understand their powerful capabilities. He appreciates experimentation with alternatives to standard approaches, like replacing bachelor's theses, in the face of revolutionary technological change.

April 2, 2024: New paper out in AI & Society

My new mini-paper "Give the machine a chance, human experts ain't that great…", co-authored with Lucy Císař Brown, is now published in AI & Society. Fulltext available here: https://t.co/MPVASqsuOC.

We argue that, despite their flaws, large language models (LLMs) deserve a fair chance to prove their mettle against human experts, who are often plagued with biases, conflicts of interest, and other frailties. For epistemically unprivileged laypeople struggling to access expert knowledge, the accessibility advantages of LLMs could prove crucial. While concerns about LLMs' inconsistencies and arguments for human superiority are often justified (for now), they may distract from the urgent need to prepare for the likely scenario of LLMs' continued ascent. Experimentation with both the capabilities and institutional architecture of LLMs is necessary. As LLMs are here to stay and they keep improving, it is high time we started thinking about how to navigate the impending wave of their proliferation.

January 19, 2024: New preprint on Machine Advisors

My preprint "Machine Advisors: Integrating Large Language Models into Democratic Assemblies is now available via SSRN.

Abstract: Large language models (LLMs) represent the currently most relevant incarnation of artificial intelligence with respect to the future fate of democratic governance. Considering their potential, this paper seeks to answer a pressing question: Could LLMs outperform humans as expert advisors to democratic assemblies? While bearing promise of enhanced expertise availability and accessibility, they also present challenges of hallucinations, misalignment, or value imposition. Weighing LLMs’ benefits and drawbacks compared to their human counterparts, I argue for their careful integration to augment democracy’s ability to address complex policy issues. The paper posits that time-tested democratic procedures like deliberation and aggregation by voting provide safeguards effective against both human and machine advisor imperfections. Additional protective measures include custom LLM training for the advisory role, boosting representatives’ competencies in query formulation, or implementation of adversarial proceedings in which LLM advisors could debate each other and provide dissenting opinions. These could further mitigate the risks that LLMs present in advisory role and empower human decision-makers toward increased autonomy and quality of their collective choices. My conceptual exploration offers a roadmap for the co-evolution of AI and democratic institution, setting the stage for an empirical research agenda to finetune the implementation specifics. 

December 2, 2023: A summer school lecture and podcast available on YouTube

My lecture "Social Technologies of the Future" and a podcast on the social consequences of AI (with Jaku Krejčí as an inreviewer) are now available online. They have been recorded on a summer school organized bz University of Hradec Králové.

Lecture annotation: Under the term technology, we are accustomed to imagining manufacturing processes that produce material goods: for example, cars, computers, or industrial robots. However, in a broader sense, this term also includes social technologies, such as capitalism and liberal democracy - that is, ways in which human society is organized.

With the development of material technologies, which today leads to an increasingly extensive digitalization of the economy and political discourse, existing social technologies may encounter the limits of their usefulness and adaptability. Capitalism and liberal democracy, as we know them, could become outdated due to digitalization, just as previous social forms became outdated due to previous industrial revolutions.

What could the social technologies of the future look like, which will better cope with technological unemployment, decentralized information flows, or the progressing dematerialization of economic goods? I will review several existing proposals, such as the introduction of unconditional basic income or democracy based on sortition instead of elections, and discuss their strengths and weaknesses. Based on this discussion, the possible social technologies of the future will be shown in more precise contours.

November 30, 2023: Our project "Look Who's Talking: Pragmatics and Ethics of Large Language Models in Democracy" has obtained funding

Our research project led by Miroslav Vacura with team members Petr Špecián and Eugenia Stamboliev has obtained funfing for 2024-2026 from the Czech Science Agency (GACR). The project engages in a philosophical inquiry into the role and impact of Large Language Models (LLMs) within democratic societies. In an era marked by rapid technological advancements, this research aims to critically assess the epistemic consequences of LLMs on democratic discourse, the epistemic authority of expertise, and the legitimacy of democratic institutions. Central to our study is the exploration of the potential effects of LLMs in democratic settings and strategies to ensure their alignment with democratic values. The project will delve into the ethical responsibilities incumbent upon governmental bodies and citizens in shaping and utilizing LLMs, reflecting on the intersection of technology, democracy, and ethics.

November 16, 2023: Talk on "Sustaining People's Rule in the Digital Age"

I have presented a talk on "Reimagining Institutions through Generative AI" at the conference Meaning of Democracy organized by the Polish Academy of Sciences - Scientific Centre in Vienna, Austria.

Abstract: The talk focuses on the potential of using large language models (LLMs) as a means to strengthen democracy in the face of modern challenges. Petr argues that the integration of AI, specifically LLMs, into democratic processes can enhance collective intelligence and decision-making. LLMs, with their ability to process vast amounts of information and provide coherent responses, could surpass the limitations of human experts who are often constrained by scarcity of resources, conflicts of interest, and narrow focus. The proposed approach includes implementing institutional safeguards and starting with experimental use of LLM advisors in controlled environments to gather empirical evidence. The main message is optimistic, suggesting that the strategic use of AI can empower democracies to effectively manage contemporary issues and complexities.

October 30, 2023: Talk on "Reimagining Institutions Through Generative AI" 

I have presented a talk on "Reimagining Institutions through Generative AI" at Computing the Human Conference in Brno.

Abstract: As AI systems grow more advanced, new possibilities emerge to utilize their generative capabilities to reimagine our institutions. It is becoming possible to integrate technology with the social sciences to develop AI-powered capabilities for institutional innovation. My talk will focus on the intriguing possibility of constructing a collaborative digital sandbox where researchers could rapidly prototype and simulate the impacts of new institutional architectures. This virtual institutional laboratory—or playground—would provide a space to experiment with novel designs optimized to answer the 21st century’s challenges. Interdisciplinary teams of social scientists, computer scientists, and government innovators would co-create this platform and populate it with imaginative institutional alternatives to be tested and refined “in silico” before their real-world deployment. Thus, when carefully directed, AI’s generative power could help design new forms of social organization and governance fit for the digital age. 

October 15, 2023: Talk on "Democracy in the Digital Age" available online

My talk on "Democracy in Digital Age" from the 2022 Být nebo bit conference in now available on YouTube.

The talk covers the contemporary troubles of the world's democracies, the role political irrationality plays in them, and the possible cures. 


September 8, 2023: ECPR General Conference 2023

I presented a talk "Democratizing Expertise. The Limits and Possibilities of Artificial Intelligence in Enhancing Democratic Decision-Making" at the ECPR General Conference 2023.

In the talk, I delved into the potential of integrating large language models (LLMs) like GPT-4 into democratic decision-making. I acknowledged their limitations, such as opacity and the potential for value imposition but argued that these aren't necessarily more problematic than the shortcomings inherent in relying on human experts. I concluded that, if managed responsibly, LLMs could become a vital asset in democratizing expertise and thereby enhancing democratic processes.


June 16, 2023: Technology &  Sustanable Development 2023 Conference

I presented a talk "Language Models for Democracy: Limits and Possibilities" on Technology &  Sustainable Development 2023 conference at Østfold University College, Norway.


June 1, 2023: Appointed a Vice-Dean for Digitalization

I have received the great privilege and responsibility to have been appointed a Vice-Dean for Digitalization at Faculty of Humanities, Charles University

May 18-20, 2023: Fortifying Democracy for the Digital Age Interdisciplinary Conference

Together with Filip Tvrdý, Petra Chudárková, and Miroslav Vacura we organized an interdisciplinary conference on the challenges democracies face in the digital age. We held 15 talks by speakers from 7 countries and teckled the issue from several angles. My talk Large Language Modes for Democracy has been a part of the program.

Special thanks to Petr Večeř for his outstanding assistance with the conference organization.

April 27, 2023: Research Group Founded

Together with my colleagues from the Faculty of Humanities, Charles University, I founded an AI Institutional Transformation Research Group. We are an interdisciplinary team of scholars committed to the study of institutional changes driven by the rapid progress and spread of the technologies of artificial intelligence in the form of generative models, such as GPT-4 or Stable Diffusion.


2023/4/3 Blog

My article "A case for democracy’s digital playground" has been published on The Loop, a blog by The European Consortium for Political Research (ECPR).

2023/1/4 Conference Paper

My chapter Democracy and Anthropic Risk has been published as a part of a collection Green Marble 2022. Studies on the Anthropocene and Ecocriticism.

2022/12/20 Paper Published

I have published a paper The Myth of the Victim Public: Democracy contra Disinformation in the journal Filozofia.

2022/11/15 Publication Prize

My book Behavioral Political Economy and Democratic Theory has been been awarded the rector's prize for prestigious publication at Prague University of Economics and Business.

2022/10/22 Conference Talk

I presented a talk "Science and Trust in the Digital Age" on Scientific Knowledge and Its Public Understanding: Interdisciplinary Perspectives conference in Sevilla.

2022/10/13 Guest Lecture

I held a guest lecture on the theme "Democracy in the Digital Age" for the Center for Theoretical Study of the Czech Academy of Sciences.

2022/09/18 IREF Working Paper

Our working paper (with Marek Hudík) "Media and the Selection of Experts" is now available via IREF.

2022/08/24 Paper

My article "Shall Justice Prevail? Reforming Epistemic Basic Structure in a Non-Ideal World" has been published by Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective.

2022/08/19 Conference Talk

I presented a talk "The Specter of Political Irrationality and the Anti-Psychological State" on Truth and Politics: A Political Epistemology Conference in Bamberg.

2022/07/02 Conference Talk

I presented a talk "Democracy and Anthropic Risk" on the panel "Risks in the Anthropocene" at Green Marble 2022 conference in Porto.

2022/06/09 Book Published

My book Behavioral Political Economy and Democratic Theory: Fortifying Democracy for the Digital Age has been published. You can order here.

2022/06/03 Blog

My article "Science of Democracy and the Owl of Minerva" has been published on The Loop, a blog by The European Consortium for Political Research (ECPR).