douglas macrae smith

Father & dreamer, Humanity

This conversation is closed.

Are we ready for cyberdemocracy or open source legislation?

Reality TV talent shows have paved the way - surely we have the tech to produce smartphone apps in order to vote in elections or referendums - eventually, producing a world where our collective/networked vision will make decisions - rather than having to depend on politiciens.

  • Jul 30 2012: Surprised no one has mentioned Dr. Beth Simone Novack's 2009 book Wiki Government. (

    Thank you Douglass for I believe something in this vein is our planet's only hope - for now we are plundering the planet's viability for extremely short term mindless and personal gains. We are on a catastrophic course unless we embrace radical change. Tragedy of the Commons is now epic.

    Please keep me in this dialogue after it closes on TED.
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      Jul 30 2012: Thanks for the link 'the myth of digital democracy' also looks interesting

      Apart from this dialogue, all I do is discuss the issue with friends and have created a french facebook page on the subject. I just like to act as a counterpoint to films like terminator, blade runner and 2001 space odyssey.

      AI is a fact, and an increasingly important one in our lives, I get the impression that people use it in practical way - but are at the same time frightened by the idea of it. Rightly so its powerful stuff - luckily (or thank god) it is being develloped at a time when humanity is becoming aware of the dangers of egocentricity - eg, human rights, ecology etc
  • Jul 29 2012: I'm not so worried about merely decreasing abstentions. That just seems like a statistic. I would be interested in increasing discourse on public policy, which I could see as a positive of this scenario. I am worried about a "tyranny of the majority" and also the idea of computers making decisions.

    What I mean by a "tyranny of the majority" is that the majority can dictate the path of the minority, or even rule out the minority. Just because more people would vote for one option doesn't make it right, much less coherent with the rest of the laws. Leaving decisions to smaller groups of people allow for all of those people to be fully informed about the topic, and thus come up with a better decision. Now, I realize that in reality legislators are often too caught up in getting reelected and voting with their party to actually intelligently discuss a topic, but that means we need to change the two party system, not have computerized voting for individual legislature.

    The second thing I am worried about is, and call me old school, but there are certain decisions I only trust humans to only make. Having a formulaic response isn't always a bad thing, but there are certain decisions, for example whether or not to intervene during a human rights violation, that you just cannot enter into a formula. Also, this computer program would have to be programmed by someone right? Would this computer program only be as reliable and intelligent as the person who programmed it? While I share some of your cynicism toward the current way politics are run in the United States, I believe that humans have enough technology and intelligence to assess data and make decisions on their own. I think that the two party system is what is preventing much of the breakdowns in actual discussion and decision making.
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      Jul 29 2012: I'm with u on the abstentions issue - And absolutely with u on the tribal (eg 2 party) issue - this is maybe the number one problem on why we have trouble making better judgements.

      So the real question would be: is it more realistic for humanity to evolve out of its egocentric (me, my family, my tribe) vision of existence, or just to hand over power to something not constrained by such passions?

      Furthermore, there should be equal rights for humans, there's no reason why the robots should be given absolute authority - just as we are learning to listen to the opposite sex, different cultures and even species; I'm sure the robots will continue along this evolution, seeing as they come through us.
  • Jul 29 2012: The big problems I see with that is the inconsistent access to technology. While many of the elderly are tech savvy, many are not. Access to technology is not consistent across the United States. For some it is limited by poverty, while others it is limited by lifestyle (for example a rancher in the middle of no where, Montana). Citizens who do not have ready access to technology would be out of the loop, and ultimately not represented. From my perspective, the general population isn't very informed about politics. While a more interactive governance may help improve that, I ultimately don't see the general public becoming drastically more interested in governing themselves. And, the politician has the ability to create a continuous set of policies that work together. If citizens vote for everything, it is not likely that there could be much discourse about the subject, or continuity of policies.
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      Jul 29 2012: Access to tech is not really a problem - people could still use a traditional polling booth (or a phone)
      Initially, many people will continue to consider politics "not my problem" - but surely facilitating the process of voting (by including the phone or online vote) will decrease the number of abstentions.

      For me, this is mainly a first step in order to accentuate the involvment of AI in the legislative process - like many, I believe that humans just aren't capable of making the right decisions for the majority (be they elected or electors - its an ego thing)
      Computers would be far more capable of assesing data and coming to the most efficient solutions.
      This apparently is very worrying to many, as they see the most efficient solution as being the eradication of the human race - but surely this worry could be addressed at the programming stage. (eg. rule number 1 : dont kill everybody)
      • Jul 29 2012: See my response above starting with, "I'm not so worried". I accidentally posted it on the thread, and not as a response. Whoops!
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    Jul 28 2012: We are not ready for it... It's coming anyway... and it's going to be horrible. Luckily, no governance, could be more horrible, than what we currently have.

    In the words of Terrance McKenna

    "In fact, all culture is being destroyed. All culture is being sold down the river, by the sorts of people who want to turn the entire planet into an international airport arrival concourse... and that's not the victory of somebodies culture over somebody else's culture, nobody has ever had a culture like that. That's called the victory of schlockmeisterism and crappola over, good taste, and good sense.

    If I were dependent on the notion that human institutions were necessary to pull us out of the ditch, I would be very despairing. As I said, no one is in charge not the IMF, the pope, the communist party, the jews... No, no. Nobody has their finger on what's going on. So then, why hope? Isn't it just a runaway train out of control?

    I don't think so. I think the out of controlness is the most hopeful thing about it... After all, whose control is it out of?

    You and I never controlled it in the first place, why are we anxious about the fact that it's out of control?

    I think if it's out of control, then...

    Our side is winning."
    • Jul 29 2012: Spoken like a single
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        Jul 29 2012: Well, as a tall, slender, and well read American... I can only maintain the whole single, cynical, prick routine for so long. Gotta spit that fire while it's still burning : )
    • Jul 29 2012: Not that you did not make some very truthful concise points.
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      Jul 29 2012: Terrence McKenna is obviously overendowed taste n sense wise

      Your point about control seems fundamental, not only viz this topic, but to understanding how things (evolution, the economy, society etc) function.- at least we could stop wasting time looking for scapegoats and realise that we are all co evolving.

      So yes we are in the midst of a cyber revolution - many will spend their time saying yuck or yummy - they will have a great effect on the outcome - as usual we mold the future via our fears and dreams, rather than with open eyes.
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    Jul 27 2012: Online democracy maybe the future but online governance is another thing entirely,if you're interested then look up the "Venus Project" The young love this but the young think they are immortal,i know i did,i like the system but it masks an unspoken requirement,that when you reach an age of negative productivity resource rating,just quietly go to the doctor and ask for the use of the little room out the back where you will have nice full wall visuals playing which can be selected to whatever you want and a lazy boy chair is provided for your comfort and a couple of pills for when you want to take.

    We are only over populated in the cities and that's because of what?

    If an A.I takes control it will have humanistic qualities but it will also phase you out as you become a negative,move you down the tier levels to a point where you will have no place,no food,nothing or give you the ultimatum to join others like you in a controlled waiting zone or retirement villages with the little back rooms available at your discretion for the good of the race.

    If online democracy comes to fruition then it should be tiered to age groups and whatever area of the planet that is in contention should have the deciding votes.What do you think? but that's only if the planet wants a global governance system put in place.
    • Jul 27 2012: Cool. I think you could consider the proprietary interests involved in your distopian scenario. We all know the cooperations want to know what we're thinking. This is why free diaper samples are addressed to teens who have not even told their parents they are pregnant yet. All they did was buy a pregnancy test and a pregnacy book! Anyway, I do not know if I want my every thought jacked in! Do you? Please see the posting of my next question which I just came up with.
  • Jul 27 2012: Drones and swarm technology used and in development by militarized establishments are giving AI an ominous optics in the public eye in my opinon. I stand both in awe and dread regarding DARPA. Really outstanding goings on there. Something I wrote earlier has some relevance here. Please see below.

    paul Ashton
    A reply on Conversation: What is the source of intuition?
    1 day ago: Scarey stuff if you ask me, which you didn't, sorry about that, but just because a governed state can absolutely enforce the law doesn't make it less suspect or fallible. Tipping the tables completely in favour of one system immediately destroys it's objectivity and credibility as an accountable establishment. Absolute enforcement means absolute punishment and accountability true. But perhaps there is reason this is handled at the "gates" and not here in the land of the LIVING. And what happens when they can read you mind! Thought databases are already literally being created full of people's nural responses to language and stimuli creating recognition algorithms which translate thought. You are suspect sir in the deepest recesses of you mind and so am I. What legislation can protect the property of your mind adequately. I love this technology and cannot wait for it's arrival but I'm pretty sure I'd be in jail for being human along with everyone else. The gates of heaven dont let a lot of people in and I'm pretty sure that girl who had an illegal abortion will have a tough enough time when she gets there let alone down here where we can thrive in ambiguity and you know, relative freedom.
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    Jul 27 2012: These are of course the 2 arguments that usually come up first:
    1) Humanity is too stupid or at least not ready to take responsability
    2) Can we trust the robots - or the people that program them ?

    I'll just say that humanity is already shaping the world - AI might just help us do it in a more coherent manner.

    So far everything that a robot does, it does better than a human eg. welding, playing chess, jeopardy, war; why not politics?

    Overpopulation demands intelligent coherent action - the web offers the meta agora
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      Jul 27 2012: 1) it seems to me that there will always be a group of people who aren't ready for such a change. But if you look maybe 300 years from now, maybe everyone accepts cyberdemocracy, maybe not. But if that does happen, there will always be new and more complex problems.

      There are still things that a robot that we make right now cannot do. I'm not really sure if a robot can realize its own existence or feel emotions. But there is definitely some kind of disconnect between me and a robot to make me believe that the robot has no emotions or thoughts.
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    Jul 27 2012: Facebook democracy?

    It's rank opinion,surface level thoughts without wading through the issues data,we are lazy when online,we only read three paragraphs or three pages in before we become bored unless we are invested otherwise do you really care? I use to be like you,i envisaged a world where A.I took responsibility of life's craziness away.

    Over the years i have realised that we operate in orbits,the net just widens that to beyond our two hundred people limit,at this level while online you become tribal and that we want to sync ourselves with the rest,perfect human behaviour,natural or is it?

    If you were asked to vote on progressive oil exploration of antartica and that the worlds major countries were all for it and your vote was the deciding vote,what would you vote if it was through facebook? not only that but what if every comment on your page was vote for yes or die?

    At the heart of the matter we as men are lazy and want a personal "Cortana",we crave completion,we crave unity in a sea of uncertainty,man if anything the future will be fit for the return of the demagogue.
  • Jul 27 2012: As far as I know Australia has begun offering people the opportunity to opt out of receiving government issued paper mail in favor of secure government issued secure email accounts. It's a start.

    Still need the experts on issues for informed accountability and consistency.
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    Jul 26 2012: I'd just like to add that my vision of the future is somewhat clouded by the fact that I'm a fan of Iain Banks' books on The Culture : a rare sci fi vision where AI rules in a positive way.

    Historically, it might be important to note that the ancient Greeks ensured true democracy by electing their Politicians via lottery - getting round the problem we have currently of having to be rich, charismatic, and constrained by party politics in order to run for office.

    The great thing about online democracy is that we can start now (I recently opened a cyberdemocracy page on facebook in french) - And also its anonymity. No need to create instant divides by stating political affiliation (eg.I'm right or left wing) which is soo last millenium.