PrimerJune 12 2024

Enrolling Citizens: A Primer on Archetypes of Democratic Engagement with AI

Wanheng Hu
Ranjit Singh

In response to rapid advances in artificial intelligence, lawmakers, regulators, academics, and technologists alike are sifting through technical jargon and marketing hype as they take on the challenge of safeguarding citizens from the technology’s potential harms while maximizing their access to its benefits. A common feature of these efforts is, as D&S Affiliate Michele Gilman has argued, including citizens throughout the stages of AI development and governance. Yet doing so is impossible without a clear vision of what citizens ideally should do. This brief takes up this imperative and asks: What approaches can ensure that citizens have meaningful involvement in the development of AI, and how do these approaches envision the role of a “good citizen”?

The primer highlights three major approaches to involving citizens in AI — AI literacy, AI governance, and participatory AI — each of them premised on the importance of enrolling citizens but envisioning different roles for citizens to play. While recognizing that it is largely impossible to come up with a universal standard for building AI in the public interest, and that all approaches will remain local and situated, this primer invites a critical reflection on the underlying assumptions about technology, democracy, and citizenship that ground how we think about the ethics and role of public(s) in large-scale sociotechnical change.