Meta Ran a Giant Experiment in Governance
Now it's turning to AI
Late last month, Meta quietly announced the results of an ambitious, near-global deliberative "democratic" process to inform decisions around the company's responsibility for the metaverse it is creating. This was not an ordinary corporate exercise. It involved over 6,000 people who were chosen to be demographically representative across 32 countries and 19 languages. The participants spent many hours in conversation in small online group sessions and got to hear from non-Meta experts about the issues under discussion. Eighty-two percent of the participants said that they would recommend this format as a way for the company to make decisions in the future.
Meta has now publicly committed to running a similar process for generative AI, a move that aligns with the huge burst of interest in democratic innovation for governing or guiding AI systems. In doing so, Meta joins Google, DeepMind, OpenAI, Anthropic and other organizations that are starting to explore approaches based on the kind of deliberative democracy that I and others have been advocating for. (Disclosure: I am on the application advisory committee for the OpenAI Democratic inputs to AI grant.) Having seen the inside of Meta's process, I am excited about this as a valuable proof of concept for transnational democratic governance. But for such a process to truly be democratic, participants would need greater power and agency, and the process itself would need to be more public and transparent.
I first got to know several of the employees responsible for setting up Meta’s Community Forums (as these processes came to be called) in the spring of 2019 during a more traditional external consultation with the company to determine its policy on “manipulated media.” I had been writing and speaking about the potential risks of what is now called generative AI and was asked (alongside other experts) to provide input on the kind of policies Meta should develop to address issues such as misinformation that could be exacerbated by the technology.
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