The year 2015 may be remembered in transhumanist circles as the year transhumanism got political with the formation of a U.S. based and global Transhumanist Party and other h+ oriented political groups. Of course previously transhumanists have been political, h+ Chair Natasha Vita-More ran for and won a political office in Los Angeles, and some transhumanists have run high profile campaigns and won political offices. And despite the recent attention, none of these efforts were really very future oriented or transhuman in implementation. The current transhumanist political movement isn’t either but it should be.
In his book Are You a Transhuman?: Monitoring and Stimulating Your Personal Rate of Growth in a Rapidly Changing World, transhumanist founding father FM 2030 presented his view for transhumanist approach to politics which he called “Up Wing” in order to set it apart from the usual dichotomy between left and right wing ideologies.
The UpWing philosophy is a visionary new thrust beyond Right and Left-wing, beyond conservative and conventional radical. Beyond all our age-old philosophies and ideologies.
We UpWingers want to facilitate the flow to the emerging post-industrial world.
We also want to accelerate humanity’s thrust to the next stage in evolution.
Specifically we want to marshall humanity’s genius to overcome our supreme tragedies – aging and death.
We want to help accelerate the colonization of our solar system and open up this infinite Universe of infinite space, infinite resources, infinite potentials.
We want to speed up the thrust to post-industrial telespheres, such as teleduction and telemedicine which can instantly provide services to anyone anywhere.
We want to help accelerate the surge to upcoming worlds of undreamed abundance. Clean, cheap, limitless energy. Limitless food. Limitless raw materials.
We want to help spread the benefits of the Biological Revolution, the new genetics, the Brain Revolution giving each one of us control over our own bodies, our own minds, our own emotions. Allowing us biological freedoms never before possible.
We want to hasten the evolution to universal telegenesis and universal parenthood where every child is genetically preplanned, every child wanted, every child cared for. We want to help liberate children from the traumas of exclusive parenthood that every child may belong biologically and socially to the whole world.
We want to move beyond Capitalist/Socialist economies to the upcoming teleconomics of Cybernation, Abundance, Leisure.
We want to advance beyond leadership and representative democracies to ELECTRONIC DEMOCRACY enabling everyone to participate directly and immediately in all important decision-making.
We want to help the thrust beyond feudal mud villages and decaying industrial cities to 21st century instant modular communities which fuse the best of nature with the new tele technologies and the new liberated life styles.
We want to help accelerate the thrust beyond nations, ethnic groups, races to create a global conscious-ness, global institutions, a global language, global citizenship, global free flow of people, global commitments.
We want to surge ahead in all these areas because we believe that all areas of life are increasingly interdependent – to advance rapidly in any one area, we must advance vigorously in all areas.
We want to spread a new triumphant spirit – an Optimism free of guilt, free of shame, free of self-denial. We want to spread the awareness that we are at the dawn of a beautiful New Age. There is a new Hope in the world.
~ FM 2030
Of course FM 2030 was writing shortly after the end of the Vietnam War when a more reactionary and conservative pro-war generation encountered a youthful and left oriented anti-war movement armed with psychedelics and what seemed at the time an entirely novel way of thinking and being. The so called “generation gap” and counter culture vs. establishment battle guided much of the thinking of the time at least up to the mid to late 1970s.
So the idea of a third way, neither right nor left, up wing, must have been particularly noteworthy, radical and therefore salient to someone like FM 2030.
Unfortunately while FM 2030’s writings are quite inspirational, they are not notably functional.
He sets out the idea of an electronic democracy, but he doesn’t say much about how it should work. What exactly is “electronic democracy” and how could it work? What makes a voting system an “electronic democracy? Is this a good thing?
How can we use these systems to enable participation and enable productive and effective decision making as FM 2030 suggests?
Electronic democracy is somewhat of a problematic terminology. We are reminded for example of the issues surrounding Diebold voting machines and the possibility to use computer based electronic voting to manipulate elections. Of course vote fraud is nothing new, and ballot box stuffing and blocking legitimate voters from polling places has a long and scandalous history in the United States and around the world.
Certainly this is not what FM 2030 had in mind. So what was he trying to suggest? In my view, although he wasn’t a mathematician, FM 2030 was suggesting we design a new computational approach to democracy, which is to say, a new approach to collective decision making and collaboration.
When people talk about democracy, the notion is often confused with a specific structure or electoral system. However this is incorrect as there are many different decision making paradigms and electoral systems which we can correctly label as democratic. For example, should we elect someone by the largest number of votes, simple majority (anything > 50% wins) or do we require a minimum percentage such as 66% to win?
Much more complex schemes can be envisioned with multiple elections, run offs, etc. and also we can consider systems where preferences are stated instead of simple yes/no votes.
Simple majority based voting schemes are commonly employed in decision making, but are widely known to produce sub-optimal results and further to be more susceptible to voter fraud and ballot stuffing attacks than some of the less familiar alternatives such as Borda and Condorcet balloting. Also, we have what is known as a representational democracy where we elect people to vote for us on issues. An alternative approach is direct democracy where voters would directly express preferences about issues.
Preference based systems are related to systems where voters can cast more than one vote, and can, for example cast votes either for one or multiple candidates. A variant of the idea known as D21 allows voters to express both yes and no votes, specifically 4 yes votes and 2 no votes are given to each voter. D21 was developed by Karel Janeček and tested for the first time in October 2013, and it challenges centuries-old presumptions of how voters can participate in the democratic process.
Another problem with democratic systems, the ballot defines who and what you can vote for. Although some ballots allow for “write in” candidates, the fixed nature of ballot alternatives guides choices.
Is a better way possible? The answer is yes and this is in my opinion what FM 2030 was suggesting in his idea of electronic democracy.
So what was FM 2030 talking about?
At the time, the dawn of the personal computer revolution, the term “electronic” was often used in place of the word “digital” as we might employ it today. For example, media theorist Marshall McLuhan talks about the rise of “electronic” media such as radio and television. I am suggesting that FM 2030’s idea of electronic democracy was a computer based system that would encourage participation and effective decision making in government.
Do such good voting systems exist? Yes and in fact the mathematics of voting procedures and decision making is a fascinating research area that includes results from game theory, ideas from information theory, statistics, and more. The strengths and weaknesses of various electoral systems can be analyzed and evaluated.
Libertarians and conservatives may shudder here, fearing I am suggesting a centralized planning approach like Chile’s Cybersyn. But a properly designed electoral system would encourage and enable individual involvement and support local decision making. What it is, is up to us.
Election participation is encouraged when individuals feel that their votes matter and that fraud is difficult or impossible. Participation is further encouraged when individuals themselves can be elected and thereby directly participate in important decision processes. The excessive influence of money in American politics prevents this, and is clearly one cause of declining participation in my opinion. But we also want to encourage people to become more actively involved in decision making and solving problems on a day to day basis. We’ve met the solution and it is us. We are the Synergetic Omni Solution, or we can be if we choose to do it.
Existing electoral systems reduce a statement of preference to simple yes/no or binary statement. It’s actually a bit worse than that, since as implemented electoral systems often only allow a person to vote for a candidate or abstain; they can not vote against the candidate. One exception is in referendums where voters can vote yes, no, or abstain. But many variations are possible and many have been developed.
The Mathematics and Future of Voting
This is deep topic for a short online article, however, there is a good deal of theoretical and mathematical research into various voting systems and decision fusion methodologies. A fair bit is now known about their advantages, disadvantages, and also importantly the literature defines analytical tools for evaluation of arbitrary voting systems. Most people are familiar with simple majority or plurality voting where the person that gets the most votes wins. However, various other possible systems can be considered.
Plurality Method — The candidate with the most first-place votes wins.
Borda Count Method — Each place on a ballot is assigned points. If there are N candidates, the last candidate gets 1 point, the second-to-last candidate gets 2 points, … N − 1 points for second place, and N points for first place. The points are tallied for each candidate separately and the candidate with the highest total is the winner.
Plurality-with-Elimination Method (Instant Runoff Voting) — (i) Count the first place votes for each candidate. If a candidate has a majority of first-placed votes, that candidate is the winner. (ii) If no candidate has a majority, eliminate the candidate with the fewest first-placed votes. (iii) Go back to step (i).
Method of Pairwise Comparisons — For each pair of candidates, determine which would win a head-to-head election; that is, each vote is assigned to whichever of the two candidates is higher on the ballot. Once we’ve gone through all the ballots (are until one of the two candidates has a majority), the winning candidate is assigned one point–if there’s a tie, each candidate receives 1 2 point. We go through all possible pairs of candidates, and tally all the points. The candidate with the most points wins the election.
This list is not inclusive. There are many possible electoral systems based on voting and expression of preferences. Not all of them work as well as others. And there are both theoretical and practical issues with any electoral system. What works in theory may be impractical to implement and both aspect need to be considered. Any proposal has to consider the human element, that is, people can’t use ballots that are too complex and a ballot should not be confusing. And of course cost is important as well as practicality. And expensive voting system may not be implemented even if it is effective and desirable.
The results of voting systems are said to be sub-optimal in the sense that voters are unsatisfied with the election results. If more people are satisfied with the results of an election, the voting system that produces these satisfied voters is prefered over an alternative system that produces fewer satisfied voters. More generally we seek to make good decisions, a related idea which is beyond the scope of this short article.
We can for example consider the notion of election fairness. This is a well defined mathematical notion and we can evaluate various different ideas about how to define and measure fairness. For example:
1. Majority Criterion — If there is a candidate that has a majority of the first-place votes, then that candidate should be the winner of the election.
2. Condorcet Criterion — If there is a candidate that is preferred by the voters over each of the other candidates (called a Condorcet candidate), then that candidate should be the winner of the election.
3. Monotonicity Criterion — If choice X is a winner of an election and, in a re-election, all the changes in the ballots are changes favorable only to X, then X should still be a winner of the election.
We might also want to consider other criteria such as transparency and verifiability of results. This is not intended to be a complete list of the criteria of interest, but rather to give some examples of desirable traits we want to define carefully later. (There is extensive and technical academic literature on this subject, see below.)
Beyond this, when considering a future electoral system we can and should consider a system wherein the result requires a more complex computation than we are currently used to with election tabulations. This is the computer age!
Most current and proposed systems do not consider a computed election result and results consist of merely reporting vote totals. Even when machine ballot reading is employed, the results are simply counts of ballots. In many more robust voting schemes such as the Borda count and its variants and D21, the result is not just a tabulation but a computation derived from these vote totals. The difference is important.
A notable alternative to the usual electoral approach is known as matrix voting. The matrix vote allows the electorate to choose a fixed number of individuals, each of whom is to undertake a specific function, while all of candidates are expected to co-operate for a common purpose post election. The scheme is proposed originally in Designing an All-Inclusive Democracy by Peter Emerson, published by Springer Verlag, 2007. The election proceeds in two stages, first a Quota Borda system (QBS) is used to identify the ten most popular candidates; and then a Modified Borda Count determines which of these successful candidates will serve.
Voting is in reality a simplified version of expressing preferences and fusion of expert opinions. Each voter expresses a preference or set of preferences, and the election result is some sort of combination or “fusion” of these inputs. If you view each voter as an expert with higher or lower levels of expertise, one can consider the fusion of expert opinions and various methods exist for accomplishing optimal combinations of evidence and opinions. Another related field of theory and practice is the Delphi Method and all of its variants and subsequent related proposals and analysis of competing hypotheses which are practices best known from the defense and intelligence analysis communities.
The Delphi Method is a structured communication technique originally developed as an interactive forecasting method which uses a panel of experts. The experts answer questionnaires in multiple rounds. After each round, a facilitator provides an anonymous summary of the experts’ forecasts from the previous round as well as the reasons they provided in support of these. Through this process of iteration, experts are encouraged to revise their earlier answers in light of the replies of other members of their panel, and the hope is that the panel will together converge on a correct or accurate forecast. ACH is a different approach that seeks “an unbiased methodology for evaluating multiple competing hypotheses for observed data.” ACH was developed by Richards (Dick) J. Heuer, Jr., a 45-year veteran of the Central Intelligence Agency. Today ACH is used by analysts in various fields that entail a high risk of error in reasoning such as finance and mineral exploration. A full discussion of these ideas and the possible open and free integration of such systems into elections and public decision making is beyond the scope of this article, but has been proposed for example by former presidential candidate Robert David Steele Vivas.
It seems fairly obvious that rapidly changing technologies will also change our social and political structures. What is less obvious is exactly what these changes will be and how they will occur. I am suggesting here that we can use technologies to improve our ability to work together, make good decisions, and get things done. And this is important.
While some transhumanists have focused on the super-empowered individual, large scale cooperation is still going to be required to achieve many transhuman objectives. Consider enterprises such as genome and connectome mapping (critical to super-longevity), and space exploration and settlement. And soon we will be working side by side with our future robotic and AI partners. We will need new tools and techniques to enable us to work together effectively in this rapidly changing and highly challenging global environment. And beyond that, we plan to extend ourselves into space to the planets, asteroids, and beyond. Can we imagine that these communities will still use late 17th century ideas about politics and how it should work? It seems nonsensical.
Meanwhile, we also still have some real world problems.
Democratic decision making is short circuited through gerrymandering and the influence of media and money. Elections are defrauded with fake votes or by blocking legitimate voters from voting. Internet shaming, pervasive political correctness, and a culture that prefers safe ideas over risky ones is the norm and this prevents free discussion of difficult topics.
On top of this we have a vast economic disparity between the richest and pretty much everyone else on Earth that threatens to tear our society apart.
Ironic then that this has led some so called transhumanists to call for an end to democracy. Democracy and individual participation is the solution, not the problem.
The problems for individuals in maintaining access to technology and knowledge, or even worse, ensuring their personal morphological and cognitive freedoms in any non-democratic society is obvious and simply a historical fact. The deep connections between technology and democracy are simply ignored in these arguments but they should be obvious to transhumanists. Freedom to create new technologies, structures and ideas we have not yet imagined is a core part of the transhumanist agenda. These individuals have in my view lost the narrative of transhumanism and are now talking about something else entirely.
Past political systems such as feudal monarchies were adaptations to the environment and technology of their times; for example, the very slow rate of information transmission and limited ability to harness and power machinery by using fuel. Nation states as they exist today would not have been possible in the middle ages. Moreover, true monarchies are not among the leading nations of the world today. There is a reason.
Future governments will not resemble past or present governments just as our present day governments do not resemble their predecessors. And FM 2030 saw what was to come. Something new and exciting.
But it isn’t quite here yet.
Up Wing suggests a positive new direction and approach. And since transhumanism is not just an esoteric philosophy but also a strategy for design, we should apply design thinking to our political and social systems. We can create the tools to enable the sort of world we want. And for me it is one in which we are all heard and encouraged to participate, hands on, DIY style.
Transhumanism is an optimistic philosophy that suggests we look for solutions to problems instead of admitting defeat, even problems as entrenched and devastating as aging and death. Politics is easy by comparison. Instead of dwelling on past ideas and institutionalized traditions, political transhumanists should be pioneers. They should develop new approaches and novel techniques that move us provably towards a design for a free society.
We have the knowledge and technology to improve democratic decision making. We can employ improved approaches like the Modified Borda and Matrix Vote. We can use technology to reduce or even eliminate voter fraud and influence. We can use the Internet, blockchain, and data visualization to improve transparency. Transhumanists should be at the forefront of these new ideas and approaches to electronic democracy and not trapped in false dichotomies or erroneous and outdated definitions of what democracy is or is not, or how it should work.
Transhumanist organizations, and especially transhumanist political candidates, should be at the forefront of promoting a mathematical and scientific approach to electronic democracy and optimal decision making. We should lead by example, using these ideas ourselves as much as is possible.
We can also encourage and promote research into new ideas for elections and novel democratic systems. We should recognize the place of freedom and free expression in democratic societies and the criticality of freedom to the transhumanist project.
And we can work together to build tools and technologies to put these ideas in practice. After all, it was the early transhumanists and extropians that first proposed the idea of “cryp” or anonymous digital currency which has became today’s Bitcoin and cryptocurrency phenomenon. The idea began as a hypothetical conversation on an Internet email list. We can do the same for democracy. We can use technology to hold better and more satisfying elections that are robust against fraud and which produce better results for everyone. We can develop new electoral systems employing the blockchain, mobile devices, data visualization, deep data transparency, or even brain computer interfaces.
We can accomplish big changes if we imagine them together.
Learn More About It
Related articles across the web