Understanding the impact of artificial intelligence (AI) has never been more important than now, as half of the world is approaching important elections.

The last few months have seen a sharp increase in AI-generated “political” content and on-par attempts at forming legislation to regulate this seemingly novel technology.

While people think AI is unprecedented, similar technological revolutions have created asymmetries that have stumped rulers and governments in the past. The Ottoman Empire was quite cautious with the printing press because of its potential to destabilize their rule and even imposed restrictions on its use.

Similar attempts to control the press were seen in other parts of the world, including East Asia, Europe, and Latin America. However, as the technology gained wider adoption, attempts at gaining control became less of a security concern and more of a strategic power struggle. The colonists wanted sole control of the press in fear of spreading ideas that challenged their rule; the Catholic Church wanted to use the press to spread its messages while restricting opposing religious ideologies from the same freedoms.

These manufactured asymmetries could only be cured by democratizing access to technology. When the Internet, smartphones, and social media became widely available in the middle of the last decade, political parties and, by extension, governments used them to their own advantage. There were even allegations (there still are) of foreign powers meddling in elections through targeted campaigns spreading misinformation.

While the negative aspects of using these technologies spread, so did the positive aspects. Debunking efforts outpaced the reach of misinformation and people are now better informed.

There is also a notion of subjectiveness when deciding what’s good and bad (the rule of law is a good starting point). So, the only real solution to curbing most of the problems these technologies inevitably uncover is an even playing field where different viewpoints can be equally expressed.

The actual problem with AI is not the unfettered access people have but who has this access. Having a small subset of people dictating the direction of a technology that impacts most, if not all, of us creates an asymmetry that even governments may be unable to correct.

Any attempts at regulation will widen the asymmetry. Even governments can become bad actors by using these technologies to hold power while preventing opponents from using them through regulation.

We need to democratize AI to save our democracies.