“Legislative Innovation” as redirection activity

The political Europe is very busy currently: Having passed the GDPR a few and the DMA even fewer years ago its currently in the process of debating the so-called “AI Act”, a piece of legislation aimed at the developers of so-called “AI” systems trying to enforce “European Values” (I don’t wanna get into it right now, looking at the news those values seem to be “not by dirty foreigners” and “let kids drown in the Mediterranean” but I’m neither a lawyer nor a politician so I might lack the brainpower to understand these things). It’s an ambitious project: Getting all European states and the different legislative bodies of the EU to agree on a paper is basically impossible. I don’t want to get into the legislation itself that is – in my uneducated opinion – a bit … not great (it’s based on a risk conceptualization that doesn’t really work, it adapts the PR term “foundation models” and creates regulatory sandboxes for these untestable, opaque machines of extraction, and it writes a lot of rules without any tangible means to enforce them. And that’s before we look at the details that recently entered the document: Legalizing using “AI” for mass surveillance for example.) I find the framing around it very interesting though because I feel it shows a shift in politics that I consider dangerous. When you look at the way the European Commission but also EU Parliamentarians talk about the “AI Act” there is a shared dominant framing. One we have known since the first Bulletin Board System opened its signup form: “FIRST!” (I don’t want to trash talk BBSs here, we should have a lot more asynchronous, indexable, durable communication platforms. Open a BBS for your community instead of using fucking Discord.) The EU and its protagonists are very proud of trying to get the first comprehensive AI regulation going. Good for them. But why is this “being first” so damn important? Should the substance, the regulatory ambition, the vision of the future be centered? Anyone can be “first” if they lower standards just enough. This narrative even finds its way into the public discourse: The German and French governments are currently not super on board with the existing draft and are considering not supporting it which will probably kill it. And while we can argue about the validity of the arguments of said governments it’s strange how for example NGOs react. In Germany for example a few NGOs are currently writing and collecting supporters for an Open Letter urging the German government to just sign the damn thing – even if it’s problematic. But if the legislation is flawed (we can just focus on AI mass surveillance to make things simpler) shouldn’t we urge our governments to do better? Give it more time in the oven to be solid? I think what we are seeing here is a redirection activity. In psychology a redirection activity (in German “Ersatzhandlung”) is an activity you do when the actual thing you want to do can’t be done – for internal or external reasons. It’s a way to relieve the pressure by trying to fulfill an replacement urge instead of what you actually need/want. While the amount of people being religious keeps falling in many societies we have found a new god: (Technological) Innovation. We’re basically a Cult of the New, just on a national and transnational level. Increasingly social and political issues are framed as technological: We don’t need to redistribute wealth by political action, no we build platforms where everyone can have even more bullshit jobs or trade made-up tokens with the promise of wealth. We don’t need Degrowth and the political actions to make it happen, we need “AI” to solve the climate catastrophe. We don’t need to put more resources into the care sector to make the jobs more attractive and give those working them fair working conditions and those being cared for a dignified life, we need robots and “AI” to do the “care” because what else can we do? But for politicians that’s a problem. Because they don’t do innovation. They regulate, structure through legislation and grants. It’s slow, it’s indirect, it takes a long time. It’s not “agile” (I want you to understand that I use that term pejoratively here). And it’s hard. And often doesn’t get anywhere. Plus: The tech bros keep complaining that the legislation is bad and too slow and “please regulate us (in a way that does not disturb our ways of making money of course)”. And that’s where the “FIRST” comes from. It’s the pretense of being part of innovation, of being in touch with the technological developments. Where companies try to show themselves to be more innovative than their competition by producing new products governments are starting to do the same by creating specific legislation for the tech innovations. But especially with legislation “first” doesn’t cut it. We don’t need legislation built on PR narratives/doomerism spread by companies with alpha-grade products and their influencers. Coming back to the EU: Whatever the EU puts into law now won’t be touched for 10 years probably. So it matters even more because legislation as political process is hard and takes time. And I personally don’t think that “bad specific legislation” is such an improvement over “less specific but established canon of legislation and interpretation”. Especially given how we are in the midst of the current “AI” hype. Why should we legitimize all kinds of systems through an AI Act when nobody knows if they will be relevant in a year or two when Microsoft stops funding it? I want politicians and political organizations to work coming from values and political goals. We should legislate for what we want and do not want on a political and social level. Tech has to follow. If we agree that discrimination is wrong it doesn’t matter at all if a person or a stochastic parrot put there by a person does it. I want less innovative legislation. Move slow and fix things.