democracy, data, and intelligence

Social media platforms may extend global participation and can be a force for better understanding but often emotions trump reason in an online world of constant outrage. The linear aspects of reasoning, a core part of a print-based society, are easily forgotten as is shown in the almost fatalistic acceptance that we live in a post-truth era. Identity politics have been retrieved so that one is loyal to one’s group, no matter what the facts. In addition, as these tribal forces are extended by the internet, we see a reversal of democracy into tyranny under populist demagogues.

Scientific American recently asked, ‘Will Democracy Survive Big Data and Artificial Intelligence?

“Today, algorithms know pretty well what we do, what we think and how we feel—possibly even better than our friends and family or even ourselves. Often the recommendations we are offered fit so well that the resulting decisions feel as if they were our own, even though they are actually not our decisions. In fact, we are being remotely controlled ever more successfully in this manner. The more is known about us, the less likely our choices are to be free and not predetermined by others …

Thanks to Big Data, we can now take better, evidence-based decisions. However, the principle of top-down control increasingly fails, since the complexity of society grows in an explosive way as we go on networking our world. Distributed control approaches will become ever more important. Only by means of collective intelligence will it be possible to find appropriate solutions to the complexity challenges of our world …

What can we do now? First, even in these times of digital revolution, the basic rights of citizens should be protected, as they are a fundamental prerequisite of a modern functional, democratic society. This requires the creation of a new social contract, based on trust and cooperation, which sees citizens and customers not as obstacles or resources to be exploited, but as partners. For this, the state would have to provide an appropriate regulatory framework, which ensures that technologies are designed and used in ways that are compatible with democracy. This would have to guarantee informational self-determination, not only theoretically, but also practically, because it is a precondition for us to lead our lives in a self-determined and responsible manner.”

A new social contract, based on trust and cooperation is what The Copenhagen Letter puts forward. Open democratic structures enable transparent design which yields humanity-centred progress which continues to serve democracy. Over time, trust emerges.

Networked computers can be used to enable democracy, or control it. This is why we need an aggressively engaged citizenry. The traditional guardians of our democracy, such as the Fourth Estate and our legislators, are in the thrall of the new platform monopolists, as witnessed by the gushing over Google’s waterfront initiative in Toronto. Interconnected and engaged citizens are our only hope for a better future. We need to learn how to navigate the emerging network era and create a better networked form of democracy. Perhaps it is monitory democracy?

[T]he years since 1945 have seen the invention of about a hundred different types of power-monitoring devices that never before existed within the world of democracy. These watchdog and guide-dog and barking-dog inventions are changing both the political geography and the political dynamics of many democracies, which no longer bear much resemblance to textbook models of representative democracy, which supposed that citizens’ needs are best championed through elected parliamentary representatives chosen by political parties. From the perspective of this book, the emerging historical form of ‘monitory’ democracy is a ‘post-Westminster’ form of democracy in which power-monitoring and power-controlling devices have begun to extend sideways and downwards through the whole political order. They penetrate the corridors of government and occupy the nooks and crannies of civil society, and in so doing they greatly complicate, and sometimes wrong-foot, the lives of politicians, parties, legislatures and governments. These extra-parliamentary power-monitoring institutions include — to mention at random just a few — public integrity commissions, judicial activism, local courts, workplace tribunals, consensus conferences, parliaments for minorities, public interest litigation, citizens’ juries, citizens’ assemblies, independent public inquiries, think-tanks, experts’ reports, participatory budgeting, vigils, ‘blogging’ and other novel forms of media scrutiny.” –John Keane via David Ronfeldt

I will be discussing these and other ideas in Helsinki this week with the foresight network and the Prime Minister’s office.

Postscript: The sessions involved a wide group of people interested in preparing Finland for the network era.

Leave a Reply

  • (will not be published)

XHTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>