Noam Yuchtman (Program on Political Economy Seminar)


Thursday, April 8, 2021, 4:30pm to 5:45pm


Zoom - see below

"AI-tocracy" (with Martin Beraja and David Y. Yang)

Today's presenter

Noam Yuchtman, London School of Economics

Zoom links for Political Economy Seminar are distributed via the seminar's mailing list. You can sign up for the list using this link:

All interested faculty and students are invited to attend.


The conventional wisdom suggests a fundamental misalignment between autocracy and technological innovation, but some have argued that AI innovation may actually be symbiotic with autocratic regimes. In this project, we examine whether there exists a political and economic alignment between the surveillance and social control aims of autocracies and the innovative aims of AI firms. We gather comprehensive data on firms and government procurement contracts in China's facial recognition AI industry, as well as on social unrest across China during the last decade. We find two results. First, autocrats benefit from AI: local unrest leads to greater government procurement of facial recognition AI, and increased AI procurement suppresses subsequent unrest. Second, the AI sector benefits from autocrats' suppression of unrest: the contracted AI firms innovate more both for the government and commercial markets. Taken together, these results establish the existence of the forces necessary to sustain an equilibrium in which autocrats are entrenched, and the AI sector continues to innovate.

Co-sponsored by FAS and IQSS, the Program on Political Economy (PE) supports research-related activities that integrate the study of economics and politics, whether by studying economic behavior in the political process or political behavior in the marketplace. In general, positive political economy is concerned with showing how observed differences among institutions affect political and economic outcomes in various social, economic, and political systems and how the institutions themselves change and develop in response to individual and collective beliefs, preferences, and strategies.