Our current governments do not work. I’m talking broadly here, but this is no generalization. You would be hard pressed to find a government on the planet today that operates as efficiently and effectively as it should, given the collective knowledge generated by our scientific and larger academic enterprises. This is true for the decisions our governments make about economic, social, and environmental problems. To make matters worse, our government institutions do not even work for the people (which, after all, was the whole point of the democracy!).
Fortunately, there is hope! Advances in information and communication technologies (ICT) as well as collaborative Web 2.0 features of the Internet give us the tools to build governance systems for the 21st century. But what properties should our next governance system possess? In order to start a larger discussion on this subject I have released a Working Paper proposing the theoretical ground work for what I call a “Distributed Digital Democracy”.
First, our future system should be distributed. This means that decisions would be “spread out” (non-randomly!) to maximize the collective intelligence of our society (which is massively intelligent – just think about all of the hyper-specialist knowledge produced by academia every year!).
Second, our future system should be digital. Digital mediums have already proven that they are effective platforms that can maximize collective intelligence in a distributed fashion (just think about the progress made by Wikipedia over the past 10 years!). The reason digital mediums allow for the maximization of collective intelligence is because of the phenomenon of stigmergy. Stigmergic interactions are interactions between “agents” in a shared environment. All interactions are saved and stored so that the same problems do not have to be solved repeatedly. Consequently a stigmergic environment allows for rapid “ratcheting up” of complexity. This would allow for the development of governments that are continually “re-thinking” themselves and constantly improving… just like the scientific process! We expect non-stop progress from science, why do we not expect the same from our governments?
Third, our future system should be democratic (obviously). At the moment, we really do not have a democracy. We get to pick between two – or three, four, five – individuals, depending on the “democracy” we live in. Then once we get our pseudo-choice we really do not have any further say in the organization and direction of society. Sure, we do public polling and this can have an affect sometimes. But it really does not affect change fast enough or efficiently enough. We need a new form of collaborative democracy, where we are allowed to vote on ideas, and not people. No one person or ideology can possibly represent the complexity of the modern world. So why is our political system still organized as if it can? Furthermore, individual campaigns are costly and time consuming. And ideologies usually erect insurmountable barriers to discussion about complex social, economic, and environmental issues.
A new governance system is possible. We can have a governance system based on complex systems science and collective intelligence theory. It will take a great deal of hard work, but it is possible. Our current systems are not embedded in the laws of physics. They are socioeconomic constructions with histories. As active agents, we can construct new institutions; institutions that work for the 21st century. The Distributed Digital Democracy system is structured within the paradigm of the global brain (GB) and designed to be flexible and incorruptible. A better world is possible. A better governance system is the way to get there. So let’s start a real discussion about how to build it.
You can read the paper here: Distributed Digital Democracy
Cadell Last is an evolutionary scientist (M.Sc.), science writer, researcher, founder of The Advanced Apes, and digital media junkie based in Toronto, Ontario. His research and writing speciality is in human evolutionary science. Cadel is focused on exploring the intersection between biochemical and technocultural evolution and how these processes can help us understand the human past, present, and future. Currently he works with the Global Brain Institute, specifically focused on how the Internet will fundamentally change major human institutions.
Learn more about digital democracy: https://www.coursera.org/course/digitaldemocracy