Although the emergence and spread of Artificial Intelligence (AI) is not equal to living on the Skynet yet, however, we are talking about much more than just a simple technological innovation. We have been using different AI-based solutions for a long time – e.g. GPS and chatbots – however, the publicly available large language models are undoubtedly revolutionizing our lives in an unprecedented way.
Today, artificial intelligence permeates almost every aspect of our lives in various ways: social media platforms provide newsfeed based on AI, air traffic control systems apply AI, even doctors and medicine employees use various types of AI… Moreover, I was preparing this post with the assistance of Google’s search algorithms.We all know that Facebok and Twitter (since Elon Musk’s takeover it’s renamed as X) and other platforms feed our hunger for news by AI-based content. Algorhythms explore the user’s taste and preferences and provide content that would probably be interesting to the reader. In the recent years, we have seen an expansion of profile based contents and this is even more tangible since the outbreak of the Russian-Ukrainian war. Based on the users’ feedback and reactions, platforms tend to meet users’ political and professional expectations. They know users’ presumed political orientation, their opinion about certain topics, their professional standards, etc. The user profile is build by analyzing search habits, the time spent on each website / post, the relationships between the websites the user usually visits and their sharing habits – just to highlight some of the key elements of AI based algorhytmic social media operation.
This is why, many argue that big tech companies are not just the owners of the most powerful assets in in the world – the users’s profile – but on the highway to becoming the new, unelected sovereigns.
To frame how dangerous platforms and profiling are to public trust, we only have to remind ourselves to the previous US presidential election scandal of Donald Trump and Facebook, or the Cambridge Analytica story and the Brexit. When platforms intervene to national elections and form public opinion, it is necessarily a question of sovereignty and security.
Speaking sovereignty, the paradigm requires three plus one factors: territory, population, supreme power and, since Montevideo, autonomy in external relations. By 2023, bigtech companies have the potential to exert a decisive influence on human societies across the borders. For the Westphalian system of sovereignty, such a capability, such a phenomenon, was completely unthinkable. In many cases, social media is now the communication channel of state power itself. This is not surprising, as social media and digital tools allow us to get our messages across much faster and more effectively than ever before. However, these technologies are almost exclusively controlled by a few big tech companies, whose economic potential and ability to influence society often rivals or even exceeds that of the state. And by now we have to treat the online space as an extended reality of our real world. Because the online one is part of the real world. The two can’t be separated anymore.
And we haven’t even talked about hardcore artificial intelligence companies like OpenAI. OpenAI is currently being rolled out through so-called APIs. ChatGPT is cute if we want to ask to write us a welcome letter. But its relevance and usage are wider than we can imagine, as it can be linked to other systems in the level of programming codes. Of course, the control and all the information obtained is the property of OpenAI.
According to some opinions, we would need to examine whether bigtech companies, like Facebook can be considered as quasi-states, since the online/virtual space it created can be considered a quasi-state territory, while its users can be considered as quasi-population. Of course, this is just a thought experiment.
However, taking a step back, perhaps we should treat the online or virtual space much more seriously than a commercial, or private law issue. Perhaps we should consider starting to talk about the online or virtual state territory as a factor of sovereignty where states need to exercise their sovereignty as they do over physical space, for instance with floating territory.
Norbert TRIBL is a senior lecturer at the International and Regional Studies Institute of the University of Szeged. He received his PhD in 2020, his thesis is on the applicability of constitutional identity in the European supranational space. He studied economics from 2019-2022. In 2023, he passed the Hungarian bar exam. As a university lecturer, he teaches State Theory and Constitutional Law. As an advisor to the Hungarian Constitutional Court between 2020 and 2023, he examined the place of the constitutional courts of the Member States of the European Union in the integration process, mainly from the perspective of constitutional identity and the responsibility of constitutional courts for integration. He is currently the Dean’s representative for public relations at the Faculty of Law and Political Sciences of University of Szeged. He is currently a member of the Digitalization and Democracy research group of the Societal Challenges Competence Centre of the Humanities and Social Sciences Cluster of the Centre of Excellence for Interdisciplinary Research, Development and Innovation of the University of Szeged, where he is examining the impact of the technology sector and the digitalizing world on essential state functions and state sovereignty. Since 2020, he has been the editor of the Constitutional Discourse Blog. E-mail: email@example.com