Liberal Arts

Will artificial intelligence and misinformation weaken democracy?

Penn State alumnus and big-data expert Jay Yonamine weighs in on Democracy Works podcast

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — The relationship between data, information and democracy is complicated. Technology is fundamentally changing the way people interact with the government and with each other, and some worry that it could spell trouble for democracy, including Penn State political science alumnus Jay Yonamine.

Jay Yonamine Credit: Photo providedAll Rights Reserved.

Yonamine is perhaps uniquely qualified to address these questions; he holds a master's and doctorate in political science and works in data science at Google. He joins the Democracy Works podcast this week to discuss how automation and misinformation are impacting the health and stability of democracies around the world.

“For almost all of history, increased access to information and increased access to create and assimilate information has almost always driven an increase in things like free speech and other democratic values,” Yonamine said. “We're now starting to see for the first time that the ease of access to information and the ease of creating and assimilating information might actually now be contributing to the spread of more antidemocratic values.”

Yonamine said Google and other technology companies acknowledge this shift, but also acknowledge that it might not be their place to regulate content and speech online — and that change can take a long time to happen at large, complex organizations.

“What a lot of companies are trying to do is create teams and departments and groups whose full-time job is just to think about these types of ethical issues,” he said. “It's not like there's a blueprint where you can say, ‘This is how company A did this in 1998’ and now there's someone who wrote a book on the best practices for introducing ethics and into an AI-based product.”

Yonamine is widely recognized as a thought leader in the data science field and explores how “big data” can be used to make better policy decisions. He received the 2019 Penn State Alumni Achievement Award, which recognizes the professional accomplishments of alumni under age 35.

Democracy Works is a collaboration between WPSU and the McCourtney Institute for Democracy. Listen at or subscribe wherever you listen to podcasts.

Last Updated June 10, 2019