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Obama Says He’s Close to a “First Amendment Absolutist,” Then Adds a “But,” Criticizes “Certain Kinds of Speech”

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President Barack Obama has reemerged in the media, as the election campaign in the US is picking up pace.

And he got his two cents in on a range of issues, including free speech in the context of the First Amendment, “misinformation,” social networks vs. democracy – as his politically like-minded comrades like to position the situation – and, of course, the role of “AI.”

Obama was a guest on a Verge podcast when he – a former US president, twice sworn to preserve, protect, and defend the country’s Constitution – seemed to water down the meaning of that oath.

At one point, he told the host that he is “close” to being a First Amendment “absolutist” – only to add, “but we have laws against certain kinds of speech that we deem to be really harmful to the public health and welfare.”

Obama’s understanding of the First Amendment, according to this statement, is not that this legislation is there to protect the right to free speech – but rather that it should secure a “marketplace” of various ideas.

In his own words: “(…) these ideas battle themselves out, and ultimately, we can all judge better ideas versus worse ideas. I deeply believe in that core principle (of the First Amendment).”

“Misinformation” is another issue troubling Obama, where he seems somewhat skeptical about the government’s ability to regulate the field (obviously – to his political slant).

But the former president has ideas about how it might be done: “We need to think about different platforms and different business models.”

Furthermore – “It may be that I’m perfectly happy to have AI mediate how I buy jeans online. That could be very efficient. I’m perfectly happy with it. So if it’s a shopping app or thread, fine.”

But – what if it’s about speech, or as he put it, “marketplace of ideas”?

There, Obama would like to see regulation that would “broaden” people’s perspectives. Let his audience be the judge of the direction this (political) “broadening” would be taking, and at the expense of what.

The interview came after sitting US president, Joe Biden, signed what is described as “a sweeping executive order about AI.”

Obama has not previously been known as an expert on these matters (apparently, his “expertise” stems from being a prominent victim of deepfakes), but now he has a lot to say about “AI”. Mostly, how those tech companies at the forefront should “regulate” matters pertaining to this technology.

On this front, one of the key messages Obama was trying to push during the podcast is to “recruit” actual tech and “AI” experts into a segment of the US Digital Service that was launched during his time in office. In this context, he urged professionals to “sign up” at ai.gov and work “for the common good.”

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