Reimagining Democracy

Last week, I hosted a two-day workshop on reimagining democracy.

The idea was to bring together people from a variety of disciplines who are all thinking about different aspects of democracy, less from a “what we need to do today” perspective and more from a blue-sky future perspective. My remit to the participants was this:

The idea is to start from scratch, to pretend we’re forming a new country and don’t have any precedent to deal with. And that we don’t have any unique interests to perturb our thinking. The modern representative democracy was the best form of government mid-eighteenth century politicians technology could invent. The twenty-first century is a very different place technically, scientifically, and philosophically. What could democracy look like if it were reinvented today? Would it even be democracy­—what comes after democracy?

Some questions to think about:

  • Representative democracies were built under the assumption that travel and communications were difficult. Does it still make sense to organize our representative units by geography? Or to send representatives far away to create laws in our name? Is there a better way for people to choose collective representatives?
  • Indeed, the very idea of representative government is due to technological limitations. If an AI system could find the optimal solution for balancing every voter’s preferences, would it still make sense to have representatives­—or should we vote for ideas and goals instead?
  • With today’s technology, we can vote anywhere and any time. How should we organize the temporal pattern of voting—­and of other forms of participation?
  • Starting from scratch, what is today’s ideal government structure? Does it make sense to have a singular leader “in charge” of everything? How should we constrain power­—is there something better than the legislative/judicial/executive set of checks and balances?
  • The size of contemporary political units ranges from a few people in a room to vast nation-states and alliances. Within one country, what might the smaller units be­—and how do they relate to one another?
  • Who has a voice in the government? What does “citizen” mean? What about children? Animals? Future people (and animals)? Corporations? The land?
  • And much more: What about the justice system? Is the twelfth-century jury form still relevant? How do we define fairness? Limit financial and military power? Keep our system robust to psychological manipulation?

My perspective, of course, is security. I want to create a system that is resilient against hacking: one that can evolve as both technologies and threats evolve.

The format was one that I have used before. Forty-eight people meet over two days. There are four ninety-minute panels per day, with six people on each. Everyone speaks for ten minutes, and the rest of the time is devoted to questions and comments. Ten minutes means that no one gets bogged down in jargon or details. Long breaks between sessions and evening dinners allow people to talk more informally. The result is a very dense, idea-rich environment that I find extremely valuable. (See the first ten comments below for details of the conversations.)

It was amazing event. Everyone participated. Everyone was interesting. (Details of the event—emerging themes, notes from the speakers—are in the comments.) It’s a week later and I am still buzzing with ideas. I hope this is only the first of an ongoing series of similar workshops.

Posted on December 14, 2022 at 9:30 PM87 Comments

Comments

Bruce Schneier December 14, 2022 9:39 PM

(International Workshop on Reinventing Democracy) IWORD 2022 Notes

Convened by Bruce Schneier at HKS, Dec 7–8, 2022

Themes

  • Barriers to more effective democratic systems
    • Larry Lessig: People do not have confidence in the wisdom of
      Americans to make decisions

    • Nick Couldry: lack of resonance (ie common horizons) caused by deep inequality and polarizing digital spaces
    • Information disorder and polarization
      • Ryan Calo on the distinction between misinformation
        (incorrect information) and disinformation (a strategy to combine
        information and misinformation toward engaging people in a project
        with a desired outcome).

      • Cory Doctorow: Divisiveness is downstream from
        institutional failure; it’s harder to sow division among
        people who are safe, secure, and prosperous than in people
        clinging to the rung above homelessness.

      • Cory Doctorow: Reject that there’s something magic
        about these platforms. We’ve had massive institutional
        failures that make people not believe anything. We focus a lot on
        the technical mechanics of why people don’t believe
        anything. Ten years ago, my pain specialist wanted me to go on
        opioids. I did my own research and determined that big Pharma was
        conspiring to kill people like me and I was right. The fact that I
        have the same epistemological basis for my healthcare
        decision-making as anti-vaxxers is undertheorized in rooms like
        this one. We leave people in an epistemological void.
    • Language failures
      • Zoe Hitzig: Experts corrupt the language we use to describe
        our social goals.

      • Judith Donath: What kind of relationship do we want to be
        building with the technologies that we have? What is the role of
        truth and lies in how we form groups? Not much human communication
        is in the form of costly signals, but we spend a lot of effort
        establishing trust through individual and tribal/group
        connections. Every word you say comes framed in the context of
        your tribe.

      • Josh Fairfield: Law is the sharpened end of the language we
        use to talk about the world we want to live in together….
        Language evolves between us when we are speaking to another human
        as a function of context. we’re not developing language in
        the way we have been

      • Nils Gilman: Even if fungus cannot speak, we still need
        ways to include their voice—we need experts who are
        equipped, like the Lorax, to speak for the trees. Not necessarily
        scientific experts, could be indigenous—pluralize idea of
        expertise.
    • The waning utility of fundamental discursive and epistemic
      boundaries including Nature/Culture, Human/Nonhuman, Man/Machine

      • What does modern governance mean if “we have never
        been modern”?

      • Mathias brought in Bruno Latour’s Parliament of
        Things, reflecting the embeddedness of humans in everything else—I
        am constituted by everything else around me. Once you have
        breakdown of dualism, acceptance of hybridity, this absolutely
        connects to the indigenous conversation and climate.
        Rearticulation of indigenous principles.
  • Any system can be gamed and hacked; how can we bring
    both anticipatory and retrospective/historical thinking to designing
    robust and resilient governance systems?

    • Bruce Schneier on hacking: A hack is something a system
      permits that’s unintended by the designers. Subversions of
      rules that change the system. What happens when AI starts doing
      that kind of thing? Idea that AIs can become a creative force to
      find loopholes and exploit them.

    • Lessons of history (Ada Palmer—We should always ask,
      what will happen when this system inevitably becomes encrusted with
      corruption, polarization, demagoguery, and threats from the
      outside?)

    • Lessons of science fiction (Jo Walton walked us through
      several democratic imaginaries from science fiction of the past
      seventy-five years).

    • Judith Donath: Lots of technologies were invented to deceive
      people. What kind of a society do we want to have? What is our
      relationship with truth and honesty?

    • Disinformation is not a technology problem (though obviously
      made worse by it) but actually the default state of humanity. How
      do we build systems with the knowledge that the production of facts
      is fragile and rare?
  • Resisting financialization and the deleterious effects of
    optimizing for economics

    • Let’s not pretend we live in a world that has arisen
      from a rational pursuit of relevant facts. Money and power pervade
      everything. Many “governing”/state systems are actually
      about protecting property.

    • Sorcha Brophy: Our economic system shapes what’s
      possible. Students have trouble imagining beyond the perverse
      incentives of capitalism.

    • Ethan Zuckerman: These [business] models are only fifteen
      years old. We’re pretty new in the surveillance
      hypercapitalism sphere. Governance feels locked in stone because
      these platforms are huge. We are thirty years into Thatcher and
      Reaganism. If we could get back to public investment, we could see
      change very quickly.

    • Jamie Susskind: “A lot of tech products were the
      result of state funding—yes, this is one justification for
      why they ought to be subject to regulation. I believe if you create
      something that has dire consequences for democracy, you should be
      subject to regulation regardless of who funded it. I try to resist
      the economic mindset—it doesn’t matter who bought it,
      it matters what the consequences are for society.”

    • Charles Mudede: Capitalism as a specific historical
      formation, with the appearance of a Newtonian absolute, where the
      project is maintaining a form of growth that has no end in sight.
      Time is fixed—what you make in an hour can change but not the
      hour; Increased productivity only redetermines what is contained in
      a unit of time.
  • Optimization as the dominant “flavor” of emerging
    technologies, and one wholly unsuited to supporting democratic
    practice

    • Rob Reich: Democratic systems are not purpose-built for
      optimizing for outcomes, but rather for refereeing background
      disagreement.

    • Tim O’Reilly: How are these systems governed? Hybrid
      AI is fundamentally governed by something we call “the
      market”—the master AI. These are fundamentally
      optimization systems. What our market system does is optimize for
      corporate profit.

    • James Bridle: The way in which we are using words like
      “technology” is deeply totalizing and emerges from a
      narrow capitalist profit seeking—and Turing computation—two
      reductive models of the world, conceptions of what technology is.
      When I hear something like the phrase “data is the new
      oil”—if that’s true, it’s very clear that
      the thing to do is leave it in the ground. So many of the rules
      that we are trying to tweak were put in place to maintain systems
      of colonialism and imperialism. If we don’t acknowledge that,
      we are doomed to create those systems over and over again.
      Fundamental misunderstanding—we can’t change the
      training set of the system, but the culture in which the system
      arises. What processes actually do this?

    • Nick Couldry: Commercially driven scaling of platforms is the wrong principle for building democratic spaces, we need subsidiarity
    • In Benjamin Bratton’s framework,
      democracy = governance optimizing for edge recursion as the
      means for collective intelligence.

    • Bruce: In human language and thought, goals and desires are

      always underspecified. We are good at filling in contextual
      gaps with each other, but technology is not.

  • Another future is possible, and in some places it is already
    here

    • Claudia Chwalisz: Citizen assemblies are here and producing
      a different picture of democracy in the places they are being used.

    • Beth Noveck: Shared many examples of institutions and
      residents working together to solve problems. Beyond deliberation
      to action and implementation.

    • Nick Couldry: We need a different architecture for building democratic spaces.
    • Eli Pariser: Real possibility that the way we get to the
      2050 good scenario is that younger people onboard to governance in
      digital spaces and then transfer that back to the governance of
      physical spaces

    • Alexis Shotwell: We might think about nurturing worlds in
      which many worlds can thrive.

    • Gideon Lichfield: Journalism’s task: leave audience
      with a sense of agency, empowerment, and possibility.
  • Danger of using technologies most useful for
    describing
    the world to
    define it. We risk remaking systems in the image
    of a toy model of reality.

    • ML modeling…these are robust descriptive tools but NOT
      necessarily robust predictors or prescribers.

    • (Ali Alkhatib on flattening the world by mistaking the
      model for a blueprint; when you look at the sensors needed to be
      part of the built infrastructure to enable self-driving cars and
      other aspects of smart city technology to function, it turns the
      sidewalk into “basically cages.”)

    • Ted Chiang: “We conflate technology with progress, but
      what is progress, if it doesn’t make life better for people
      who work?”
  • Not just having the right rules, but implementation and
    experience (and maintenance) of governance systems matter.

    • Eli: “Faith in democracy comes as much from
      experiences of informal democratic practice as from formal
      mechanisms of democracy”

    • Ada: I spend a lot of time convincing my students that
      things used to be worse. Despair is how we lose.

    • Gillian Hadfield: One of the things that might be helpful to
      come back to, from Sorcha and Gojko, the mundane experience…
      Alexis, emphasis on relation as the unit of analysis. We focus on
      getting in a room and coming up with the rules. We don’t pay
      enough attention to asking what’s the relational experience,
      the information I’m getting about the world that we live in?
      Getting away from a high-level focus on what the constitution
      should say, and think more about the person getting dropped off
      without someone to open the door—neglect of the care we can
      experience.

    • Moving resources (Larry: Every funder is keen to solve the
      next election, but we need people who will invest in the
      infrastructure for different systems of decision-making.)

Bruce Schneier December 14, 2022 9:40 PM

Tensions

  • Feasibility vs. what the future calls for (where are we vs.
    where we want to be); CAN we directly seek abolition of (national)
    borders, (epistemic) boundaries, and (surveillance) business models?
    How does the conversation change if we are necessarily adapting from
    current conditions?

    • Eli: Let’s imagine in 2050, we have flourishing
      multicultural multipolar democracies—“I can’t
      tell a story of how we get there with incremental small reforms.”

    • On the one hand, we have valuing nonhuman intelligence,
      considering the lens of the future, learning from history, planning
      for future generations’ enjoyment and thriving.

    • On another hand, we have toxic individualism and commitment
      to economic and property-based conceptions of what government is
      for.

    • The above might be a false binary, but the point that we’ve
      jumped in seems past the point where you ask a basic question about
      what society is for, or at least what government is for.
  • Participation vs. expertise
    • Nils: We need discrete, topically focused planetary scale
      institutions to deal with particular problems. Who is going to
      populate these institutions—question of expertise—process
      of expert knowledge creation is how we know we have these problems,
      but we don’t want JUST experts. Sortition should be a central
      feature.

    • Beth: Idea that regular citizens and actually young people
      can be at the center of solving hard problems is very counter to
      what we have been told. HBS and HKS propagating managerial theories
      of governance, lifted from business and ported into public policy
      context.

    • Claudia: We’re not talking about direct democracy,
      we’re talking about a different form of representative
      democracy. Not getting rid of expertise, but creating the right
      epistemic conditions to be able to make forward progress.
  • The need for new language in order to imagine new systems and
    sometimes existing realities

    • How does emerging tech help us understand the world
      differently, including our interdependence with nonhuman
      intelligences? James: We needed to develop AI to have the
      frameworks to understand how trees were communicating through
      mycelial networks. Didn’t have the language for it.

    • Primavera De Filippi: Do think it’s important to
      create new words for what is coming, but words have a powerful
      performative element. Is there a need to work from the inside by
      educating people and providing a conceptual toolkit for things
      people don’t notice? Like “secondhand smoking”—where
      awareness of impact comes through performative vocabulary and leads
      to behavior change
  • Can we skip to building new systems, or do we first need to
    build coalitions?

    • Ethan: Eighteenth century filled with the public
      sphere—meeting houses alternate between religious and
      political meetings; Large number of—not all—people are
      participating in governance; people participating in clubs,
      including essay writing. In the commonwealth of Massachusetts, you
      have mandatory literacy for boys and girls… Robust system to
      prepare people to participate in the public square.

    • Rob: Democracy is for process, not outcomes.
    • Still, in a room where we “probably mostly agree with
      each other’s politics” it’s still possible to
      feel like we are having a cogent discussion but without fundamental
      alignment on what we are actually talking about, about
      what is
      at stake
      .
  • What IS at stake?
    • What is the project of modern government? Is the project, as
      some have argued, to protect property—to sustain landholder
      capitalism? Is the project to renegotiate terms toward the
      continued survival (and even thriving) of our interdependent
      ecosystem on Earth? Is the project to ready a subset of people to
      transcend (escape) current bounds?

    • With all three projects (and more) actively underway in
      different sectors and communities, and with these projects
      potentially at odds, we are invited to have a deeper conversation
      about first principles.
  • Shift from government-focused conversations to
    technology-focused ones occasionally felt jarring

    • Why are we talking so much about AI at a “reimagining
      democracy” event? Can AI ever be a tool for reimagining? It
      is fundamentally constrained by past patterns, necessarily
      recursive. Conservative by definition.

    • A lot of talk about how technology shapes political
      possibility—but perhaps we reify the power of tech to
      constrain us when we center it in the conversation.

    • How do we start from engaging communities in conversations
      about what kind of world we want to live in, and let the
      conversation about tools evolve from there?

To be continued…

  • A subsequent event could pull greater international
    participation and other forms of diversity.

  • A subsequent event could seek to address explicitly and in
    parallel first principles, rules, implementation, and experience.

  • A subsequent event could allow us to consider whether
    technology systems “can and whether they should be capable of
    knowing us well enough to intervene in our democracy”
    (Judith).

  • Henry: Aaron Swartz as a linkage between Rob and Tim[’s
    debate about Silicon Valley style optimization]—a different
    path that could have been taken by Silicon Valley—piecemeal
    democratic engineering—no grand plans, but figure stuff out on
    the fly, iterate iterate iterate. Would love to see coming out of
    this, a project of piecemeal democratic engineering.

Bruce Schneier December 14, 2022 9:41 PM

DAY 1

Panel 1 (day 1)

James Bridle

  • Writer, causing trouble, taking things apart
  • We often start from flawed premise
  • Stories about democracy
  • Lives in Athens Greece / small island near there for seven years
  • Disclaimer: Athenian democracy not the pinnacle or epitome
  • Every museum has shards of pottery with names scratched in—voting tech—they voted to banish people (leave city on pain of death for ten years)
  • Voting by lot (sortition)—Socrates said if you vote for your leaders you end up with oligarchy—voting by lot was random
  • Who sits on parliament, serves as judges, on committees, everyone except who ran the army was randomized across the population
  • Randomness increases the diversity of people who are involved
  • Extraordinary things happen when citizen assemblies are tried—consensus (we’re told it’s impossible)
  • People think differently about problems in this context
  • Nonhuman intelligence
  • Cognitive diversity: If we’re willing to see different types of intelligence, i.e., AI, we have to acknowledge a diversity of nonhuman intelligence
  • Nonhuman animals also do politics
  • Challenges us to engage with others in ways we’re not used to engaging even with other humans
  • Frameworks and knowledge for relating to each other differently

Claudia Chwalisz

  • Research and action institute: Democracy Next
  • Challenge assumptions about elections
  • The idea of political rights is present in
  • Democracy and elections being so closely associated is a
  • Elections are a way to concentrate power resulting in oligarchy
  • Representative democracy is not even what we were calling these systems decades ago
  • Progress from dictatorship, but not the ideal form
  • Elections are the fossil fuel of politics—they give democracy a boost but cause their own problems
  • Selecting assembles by sortition
  • Previously at OECD—analyzed 600 examples of citizens assemblies
  • Growing deliberative wave
  • In Ireland, citizens assemblies are common practice
  • France has banned flights within the country for travel that can be undertaken by less than 2.5 hours by train
  • Permanent citizen assemblies exist as well
  • Another democratic future is possible

Lawrence Lessig

  • What’s standing in the way of the potential of assemblies etc.?
  • People do not have confidence in the wisdom of Americans to make decisions Recent project he’s excited about: trying to build confidence in our own capacity to address complicated problems
  • Build it in a way that is scalable, begins to represent an archive that demonstrates we are pretty good at coming up with solutions
  • Architecting an environment where we experience each other as people, as citizens, seems to be an important challenge
  • We are seeing what happens absent this capacity, infrastructure—in government, the rise of authoritarian leaders; in business, the rise of the “superhero” entrepreneur
  • Deliberations.us
  • One module for right now about the electoral college
  • Offer people simple information—5-7 min videos that break the issue down, provide information people need
  • Deliberation
  • Track what people understand about each other after the deliberation
  • Track changes in attitudes and beliefs about issues—have seen huge shifts
  • Sounds close to what Jim Fishkin has been building and living for 30 years, and it is, but he hasn’t demonstrated:
  • He’s great at ensuring that the results of his projects are satisfying to people like us—deliberative polling
  • Our objective is to maximize deliberation—maximize the number of people who have gone through this process
  • Increase probability that particular people have done it and have this experience
  • More importantly, begin to build an archive of results that people can look at and vet
  • Sure, 98% of the internet is trash, but what about Wikipedia? Begins to create hopefulness about platforms
  • Every funder is keen to solve the next election, but we need people who will invest in the infrastructure for different systems of decision making

Beth Noveck

  • For 20 years, she’s been talking about how we need to focus on the day after Election Day
  • Institutions and residents working together to solve problems. Beyond deliberation to action and implementation. Examples:
  • Barcelona city council—El Foro Joven BCN—young people working with city council
  • Nuorten budjetti—5-stage collaborative process in Helsinki—every year since 2013—as young as 12—developing implementation plans
  • Creamos in Chile—open innovation competition and concretion program—ages 15–29—uses Belgian platform CitizenLab
  • Oakland California—co-creating solutions together, writing budgets for the city
  • Alternatively, Decide Madrid—an example that was derailed by bots and homogeneity of participants
  • Scale these kinds of concretion, collaboration, and participation
  • How do we change how institutions organize themselves?
  • Build institutional capacity to do these things
  • Harvard in the 1980s: propagating managerialist theories of government, transferred from HBS to HKS—the elite expert knows best
  • Viewpoint is citizens are stupid, need to manage for them, limit their role to participate in anemic mechanisms (deliberative polling)
  • Idea that regular citizens and actually young people can be at the center of solving hard problems is very counter to what we have been told
  • Renaming this project but Smarter Crowdsourcing—Cotopaxi Volcano was a hard problem for Quito, many people living in the blast radius
  • Helping institutions increase their cognitive diversity with technology
  • Defining actionable problems that we’re trying to solve
  • Curating experts and citizens to participate in coming up with solutions
  • How we introduce machine learning to increase diversity
  • US House Committee on Modernization—evidence based
  • Democracy Fund—help figure out what to fund in terms of election subversion
  • Using ML to think about how to do these things in practice
  • Need to increase the capacity and know-how of institutions

Eli Pariser

  • Practitioner, actioning some of these ideas
  • How do we put technology in service of a revitalized democracy
  • Really special moment for democratic reinvention
  • Digital public spaces = one of the key problems to solve
  • Let’s imagine in 2050, we have flourishing multicultural multipolar democracies
  • “I can’t tell a story of how we get there with incremental small reforms”
  • Systems weren’t built for current capabilities or current problems
  • Thirteenth-century Brits didn’t necessarily nail it
  • How do we build trust and legitimacy for the shift that needs to happen?
  • Goldilocks Zone—astrophysics—conditions are just right for life
  • We are in a Goldilocks zone for governance right now—governance is annoying and hard, but we have a critical mass of people with just enough at stake and lives are at risk
  • Young people want to spend their allowance on digital goods and services; I would be distraught to lose my Google photos
  • Real possibility that the way we get to the 2050 good scenario is that younger people onboard to governance in digital spaces and then transfer that back to the governance of physical spaces
  • Panel has considered how we reinvent the formal mechanisms of democracy
  • Faith in democracy comes as much from experiences of informal democratic practice as from formal mechanisms of democracy
  • Urban planning school of digital thinking (nod to Judith Donath, Ethan Zuckerman) borrow lessons from healthy physical spaces
  • No human community on earth would structure itself the way we structure digital environments—everything passes through a few advertising platforms
  • Parks for the internet—people come into contact with each other, experience one another in a low-touch way
  • We don’t have a theory of how to build well-managed, heterogenous and high-access spaces
  • People don’t participate in a library for the sake of civics, they have unmet needs that are met by the library—we need to design digital spaces around meeting unmet needs
  • Finally looking clearly at the scale of the problems and what needs to be done

Rob Reich

  • Political philosopher who thinks about democratic theory
  • At Stanford for last 25-30 years
  • Begin by offering two motivating anecdotes:
  • In the past 5 years at Stanford, witnessed the dissolution of students’ assumption that democracy is the foremost organizing function—students are coming from non-democratic countries and/or from democracies they see not functioning
  • The optimizing mindset gets ported over from technology design to beliefs about democracy
  • Democratic systems are not purpose-built for optimizing for outcomes, but rather for refereeing background disagreement
  • Silicon Valley perspective seems to be “Democracy holds back the progress of technology and innovation; we need beneficent technocracy”
  • Two reasons democracy is a good form of political organization:
    1. It’s procedurally fair; in the face of background pluralism, it is a system that gives people equal rights to adjudicate
    2. (Epistemic defense) Democracy delivers better outcomes, going beyond procedural justifications to deliver better outcomes; outcomes tend to be better than from non-democratic systems
  • Important dimensions of democratic systems
    1. Deliberation and reason giving
    2. Access and information
    3. Equal opportunity for voice and influence
    4. Quality information—truth-seeking, systems that tend toward self-correction
    5. Sense of dignity and belonging
  • Draw a few preliminary and obvious lessons about our current state:
  • Effect of technology on information and voice: good
  • Effect on deliberation, quality information and dignity: not good
  • Current design of the internet does not empirically support the Marketplace of ideas—low quality information amplified and spread
  • Superabundance of information—requiring algorithmic sorting and curation
  • How can we get better deliberation and reason giving

Questions for panel 1:

  • Mathias Risse—Investment in civic education; let’s not lose the idea of making representative democracy better.
  • Larry: Sortition can be a method of surfacing potential representatives, not in conflict with representative democracy
  • Federica: How do you build educational spaces?
  • Nick, LSE: Worried that we’re only looking at half of the problem space. Voice has been multiplying for 30 years (participatory budgeting); we haven’t seen governments adjusting for this. Do institutions really value voice? What would it mean for institutions to value the voice that they generate when they consult?
  • Claudia: We’re not talking about direct democracy, we’re talking about a different form of representative democracy. Not getting rid of expertise, but creating the right epistemic conditions to be able to make forward progress.
  • Beth: The Germans have been particularly good at investing in and building public sector capacity (Digital Academy). Lots of malevolence in the world but don’t underestimate the power of incompetence. Incremental step of just teaching people how to do these things is important. Executive order on equity—they don’t know how to process the public comments.
  • (“We built something called Democracy Hot Tub in Second Life”)
  • Jamie: I think a lot of our debates here are going to be about deciding whether it’s more important that people are participating, or that we get cogent policy outcomes, or equal representation or freedom.
  • Ada: Machiavelli: when people feel like they’re participating in rule, they’re more willing to act on behalf of the state during an emergency.
  • I love sortition; Machiavelli is living in a time ruled by sortition in a late stage of it where it has been thoroughly corrupted by modern elites; we are living in a system where oligarchs have had 150 years to learn how to game the system. If you have a range of different methods, the odds are of one group successfully dominating everything at the same time. Everything is game-able but not in the same way. Right now, the same process that can corrupt the electoral process also games the judges. Every time you add a different selection method, you make it harder for those with money and power to co-opt.
  • James: My understanding of some of these processes is that they are not about producing a steady-state outcome; they are about giving people agency: control or a sense of control over their own lives (not the same as political freedom)—agency is transferable. Collapse of agency without a corresponding education leads to problems we are seeing.
  • Eli: Culture eats both strategy and formal process for breakfast. The personal experience of democratic efficacy is being underweighted. Most of the civic space in Athens is not about deliberation of lawmaking, it’s about play and sport and having fun together. Soccer fields are more central than we tend to think of them in rooms like these.
  • Charles: Transcritique (book)—the lottery as a way to deal with some of the problems that democracy seems to run into. We’ve been discussing democracy in a way that sounds eternal—hard to divorce from the massive changes in the economy over the past 200 years or so. The whole meaning of democracy has to be reconsidered—it’s not doing the same thing that it was doing in the past.
  • Henry: Building on Ada and Larry, we came here to rebuild democracy from scratch but old institutions keep on reappearing. Our institutions do not disappear in puffs of smoke. Citizen Assemblies have been used to tackle issues politicians are scared to deal with. Combination of new and old might be a valuable pathway.

Bruce Schneier December 14, 2022 9:42 PM

Panel 2 (day 1)

Cory Doctorow

  • When matter gets concentrated, we get a black hole, rules of physics start to break down
  • When firms form concentrated blobs of power, rules start to break down
  • Tech concentration: illusion that tech weirdos have invented a mind control rig to sell your kid a fidget spinner, then used it to turn your uncle into QAnon
  • Lifecycle of social media. Rely on network effects. Your friends join so you join. Facebook originally billed itself as a privacy-forward alternative to Myspace.
  • If there’s a way to add an interoperable component to a tech platform that allows you to take the parts that you like and leave the parts that you don’t. Dominant firms want to impose a high switching cost. Digital Rights Management (e.g., Audible books) or encrypted apps (can’t make an ad-blocker for FB). Anyone can design a system that works on people stupider than them. People will eventually figure out how to allow users to leave the walled garden.
  • I am supposed to be talking about tech. Need to talk about monopoly. So I have to talk about law. We’ve seen use of noncompete, trade secrecy, non-disclosure, etc… where anything shareholders don’t prefer can be circumvented in court rather than needing to stay ahead technically. Hostage-taking allows firms to create new equilibrium—allocate surpluses to advertisers—they can impose costs on you STAYING, knowing you won’t leave.
  • Ada Palmer will talk about Right of Exit
  • DMA also includes interoperability requirement for social media
  • Same walls that protect us from external actors are walls that keep us in services that harm us
  • Propose adversarial interoperability; competitive interop (competitive compatibility—comcom)—privacy laws and anti-fraud laws + comcom and mandates. Dominant firms cannot afford to be forced into guerrilla warfare.
  • Seize the Means of Computation book forthcoming.

Gideon Lichfield

  • A few ways in which the media is anachronistic
  • “The media” implies a bounded set of institutions—media now is pretty much everything—all forms of communication (AR/VR, gaming, journalism, social media, internet), infinity of ordinances, infinity of ways to communicate
  • Audiences no longer constrained by geography, reach
  • Journalism rooted in the Brandeis counter-speech doctrine: that the answer to bad speech is more speech—stems from a time when speech was scarce—today the model of suppressing truth is to flood the zone with shit
  • Media also dates from a time when we believed that people formed beliefs and made decisions rationally, rather than through narratives and tribal affiliations
  • Media still sees its job as persuading people based on information
  • The idea of accountability journalism—if you put the information out there, society will run with it and hold institutions accountable—in reality our ability to shame or pressure people into doing the right thing is not real
  • Anybody today can become a journalist—reach an audience with information
  • If we are talking about creating an ecosystem for a twenty-first-century democracy—we should assume that capitalism will continue to dictate platforms’ non-neutrality; people who are convening niche audiences, whether journalists or influencers, can not only talk to those communities about the niche content, they can also talk to them about policy issues that affect them
  • Critical because of the trust issue—trust in mainstream media declining
  • Key way to build trusts is for journalists to be responsive to what communities need—we don’t train them in connecting to communities or in dispute resolution (pride, fear, need to belong just as relevant as reason)
  • Journalists still see their mission as determining the truth and convincing people who are wrong that they are wrong—if you see your job instead as identifying fault lines in the community, looking for what gets the community past those fault lines and getting past them, you may still arrive at truth but through a different approach
  • Mission of journalism needs to shift from discovering truth to diminishing conflict
  • Most mainstream media doesn’t have a very solid understanding of the communities they are trying to serve. We don’t do enough to engage communities—financial journalists would have seen the 2008 crisis coming if they had spoken to real estate agents and loan officers
  • The challenge is not only how can journalists connect with the communities they report for
  • How do you get journalists, community conveners to work together so that reporting can help resolve questions that people actually need answers to

Tim O’Reilly

  • When we’re talking about anything, implementation matters more than design; and the design of implementation matters more than the design of policy or governance. We are ruled by what we build, not what we meant to build.
  • When we think about the future of democracy, we have to ask ourselves “How will it be implemented?” I believe we at the beginning of an immense transformation of the technology landscape. Been in industry 40 years starting with personal computing > world wide web (> mobile) > AI
  • We think about AI wrong—as if it’s an invention, a separate intelligence, when in fact it’s a means for organizing collective intelligence.
  • Google works by ingesting all of the content on the web and trying to make sense of it through algorithms (pagerank, etc.)—all starting to be encapsulated in LLMs. Radical interface to implementation—vast internet services are effectively processes (Google has to scrape the web every day), whereas these models are trained (and can be retrained) but represent an artifact that captures all of this vast process and then can be built on by somebody else.
  • One of the key ways that you manage a platform is with search, which used to be hard, but now we can adapt a Google algorithm, train it on our content, and it does better than Google at indexing our content
  • IBM PC moment—Google open sourcing something, think people will build peripherals not clones. Monopoly not able to see the threat coming.
  • How are these systems governed? Hybrid AI fundamentally governed by something we call “the market”—the master AI. These are fundamentally optimization systems. What our market system does is optimize for corporate profit.
  • Where we went wrong, this struggle to manage AI, is the struggle for how we are going to manage our future—in some sense these are the same question.
  • What is the implementation of our governance? We are limited by focusing on the minutiae—politics—but so much policy implementation happens outside electoral politics. By people in roles making analogous decisions to those that engineers at Google and Facebook make.
  • Need to explore the cross-talk between conversations about how we govern AI and how we govern society. Paul Cohen at CMU—opportunity of AI is to help humans co-manage complexity.

Mathias Risse

  • Data ownership a central question for the future of society
  • Political Theory of the Digital Age—Where Artificial Intelligence Might Take Us (forthcoming book)
  • Data as collectively-generated patterns
  • Emile Durkheim and social facts—vs. Weber methodological individualism where everything gets reduced
  • Social facts should be socially controlled through democratic mechanisms with an eye to social justice, with suitable integration of individual concern
  • Data (in the sense of data as social trends) are social facts—valuable because they allow statistical inferences—
  • Data should not belong to platform owners—owners should make just enough profit to cover expenses, and then there could be incentives for people to reveal collectively generated patterns
  • Nod to Julie Cohen’s work
  • Several data-as proposals on the table (ownership vs. control)
  • Do three things: explain how data are valuable; what kind of rights there should be to them; who should hold such rights
  • Data as labor; as personhood; as salvage; as property
  • Dominant view: Locke grounded property in individual acts (“mixing”), which was designed for land but worked best for intellectual property
  • Grotius’s considerations about water suggest water should belong to everyone
  • Intellectual property and data are relevantly like water

Questions for panel 2

  • Larry: Cory, there’s a subtle theme in your presentation that wants us to focus on the monopoly characteristic of these platforms, almost to the exclusion of other facets. They are much worse monopolies than maybe the railroads were. Tristan Harris would say the design features specifically amplify worst characteristics.
  • Cory: Reject that there’s something magic about these platforms. We’ve had massive institutional failures that make people not believe anything. We focus a lot on the technical mechanics of why people don’t believe anything. Ten years ago my pain specialist wanted me to go on opioids. I did my own research and determined that big Pharma was conspiring to kill people like me and I was right. The fact that I have the same epistemological basis for my healthcare decision-making as anti-vaxxers is undertheorized in rooms like this one. We leave people in an epistemological void. The Prodigal Tech Bro—forthcoming book—leans into the problems with the evil wizard narrative.
  • Tim: Remember that experiment where FB proved they could make people feel better if they manipulated the feed?—social scientists came down on the ethics—but experimenting with how to exploit people for money is just business as usual. AI is a mirror, not a master, we train it on the data we select. When it goes wrong, we don’t say “bad us” we say “bad AI”—we need to learn how to build in aspiration
  • Gillian: Appreciate the focus on implementation, governance, what do we actually do? We’ve over-indexed on rule design—how will we implement it moment by moment? All of these things are being governed right now within technology companies. Data as collectively generated patterns—what does that mean from an implementation point of view?
  • Mathias: I don’t have a well-worked-out answer. Quite eager to collaborate with people who know more about how things are done in property law and other contexts, but haven’t gotten to that point yet.
  • Tim: Believe that the implementation is in these hybrid systems of humans and machines.
  • Daniel: Gideon, you said that beyond factualness, it’s important to train journos in conflict resolution… How do you think about that in light of fifth generation warfare from non-state actors who are able to avoid fighting the US military by polarizing its populace and decreasing the ability of institutions to govern effectively?
  • Gideon: I don’t see that as substantively that different from fighting domestic disinformation. Whether common cause is water quality in your neighborhood, business tax breaks, or anything else
  • Cory: Divisiveness is downstream from institutional failure; it’s harder to sow division among people who are safe, secure, and prosperous than people clinging to the rung above homelessness
  • Ada: Great example from 1805 in Who Owns the News, looks at how the US government regulated the movement of news vs. intellectual property. News needs to flow. Media mail laws developed in parallel to copyright law. News or facts are a type of information that has always been considered not property, but a social resource.
  • Rob: Modest disagreement with Gideon: if you begin with understanding what democracy is for—
  • Gideon: Should have said conflict improvement, not conflict dissolution
  • Rob: Stronger disagreement with Tim—you want to bring the optimizing over to democracy. There is no central organizing principle of democracy. Technologists are not able to acknowledge their own conflicts to actually engage with these issues. I want instead background pluralism of democracy to invade the technical realm.
  • Tim: I don’t disagree with that. How do we do synthetic optimization based on multiple, perhaps competing, objectives? Not saying these things can be solved, but we live in a world that is ruled by these systems. They are badly designed. We know how to optimize for more than one thing, but haven’t been doing it.
  • James: The way in which we are using words like “technology” is deeply totalizing and emerges from a narrow capitalist profit seeking—and Turing computation—two reductive models of the world, conceptions of what technology is. When I hear something like the phrase “data is the new oil”—if that’s true, it’s very clear that the thing to do is leave it in the ground. So many of the rules that we are trying to tweak were put in place to maintain systems of colonialism and imperialism. If we don’t acknowledge that, we are doomed to create those systems over and over again. Fundamental misunderstanding—we can’t change the training set of the system, but the culture in which the system arises.
  • What processes actually do this?
  • Bruce: Debate between Rob and Tim reminds me of AI fairness—we don’t want technologists to be defining fairness, or the function of democracy. These are not technical questions.
  • Rob: When we ask those questions of nontechnical people it will quickly become clear they are not sites for optimization.
  • Gideon: Journalism’s task: leave audience with a sense of agency, empowerment, and possibility
  • Aviv: Optimization is problematic, but even government is set up to optimize between competing goals. What should the rules be; how do those rules get implemented—easy to conflate the governance level and the algorithmic level. Building on Stray and Ripley’s work, I look at how you can incentivize the journalism that improves conflict by bridging optimization functions.
  • Tim: The sum of what we do is not optimize for one thing; we need systems that are good at encountering trade-offs.
  • Gideon: How do you find out what a set of people would find useful from journalists?

Bruce Schneier December 14, 2022 9:42 PM

Panel 3 (day 1)

Danielle Allen

  • In the summer of 1993, she was sitting in the dirt in the Agora in Athens and found a pottery shard with Pericles’s father’s name written on it—because there were factions—partisans—working for what they wanted
  • Power is always a part of the conversation—increasing cognitive diversity through technology doesn’t deliver you from the problem of power—who gets to use it and how
  • In contrast to classical liberalism, Keynesian social democracy, neoliberalism—Power-sharing Liberalism: justice by means of democracy as basis for political economy
  • Reimagine core normative framework from the perspective of the guiding principle of power being broadly shared
  • Most people are quite comfortable talking about rights protection as something that can be done for other people
  • People came to think about the work of democracy through a distinction between negative and positive rights and liberties—in the nineteenth century, these got separated and negative freedoms held primacy, then you patch the system with redistribution when there are harms
  • Give people a space to think about normative political ecology within a whole-human ecosystem

Marc Collins Chen

  • Been involved on the political side—has served as head of tourism for French Polynesia; had read an article that island infrastructure would be submerged by 2050
  • Here to talk about the industry of floating cities
  • Had a team, but not a market, not funders. Buckminster Fuller had gone to MIT to cost out a floating city.
  • 250,000 acres per year built onto the ocean. McGill University institute studying new cities—120 cities, many built under a corporate model
  • Adding 10BN people, many in cities
  • Where are we going to put these new cities? Every urban mayor is under pressure from developers to keep expanding (land reclamation, etc.), and under pressure from conservation groups to avoid further degradation of natural resources
  • As CEO and founder of Oceanics, needed to find a government to allow them to build floating cities: Busan South Korea, Maldives, Netherlands, Finland, Estonia, Japan, Saudi Arabia, Singapore has been theorizing for twenty years
  • Institutionally, you have WEF, MIT, Global Center for Adaptation (HQ is on the water)
  • Prediction: in the next five years we will be able to prove that these are stable habitats, buildable at cost parity with land reclamation
  • Within a decade, we’ll prove circularity. Interconnected 5-acre platforms will be circular from materials perspective. We will prove regeneration. These will start corporate but turn public.
  • Within five decades, we’ll have a way to manage the commons—not just extractive—unified ocean code. And insurance. Waterfront property will not be insurable. Floating cities will become more interesting.

Zoë Hitzig

  • Economist and writer
  • The language of democracy and the language of policy
  • How experts can corrupt the language we use to describe our social goals Personal story: Fifteen years old during the financial crisis, coincided with growing awareness of climate crisis. Everyone was saying we need to spend in order to lift out of the recession. For climate, we need the exact opposite: slow consumption. Disaster paradox—either we make climate or economy worse.
  • Climate crisis is different than the recession. Climate is science-based, sitting on solid ground. Financial crisis seemed less like truth and more like narrative. Whose narrative, why are those coming up with the narrative the same people who created the problem.
  • Didn’t have the right language to formulate my unease. Language of experts becomes a trap we cannot see beyond.
  • Before lunch, we heard that we need to separate out the rules and how they get implemented. Bruce said before lunch for example that we should socially determine fairness and then let technologists implement that.
  • Minimizing the translation gap becomes important.
  • Economists have helped redesign school sorting algorithms. How to allocate students to public schools.
  • Experts participating in a feedback loop that constrains the space for potential solutions.
  • Common intervention is to cue people to game the system correctly. More valuable would be to help people understand the algorithm. Create tools for simulation that help people understand what would happen to them under different choices. Interactive mechanistic modeling—explanatory tools for algorithmic systems.

Cory Doctorow

  • Worked mostly in big tech for past thirty years
  • Built Newsfeed, brought in targeted advertising. Now at Google.
  • Started career in US Navy
  • Pivot the power discussion—our power to do the things we are talking about today
  • More power to go do them coming in the next two years than at any point in recent memory
  • Talent and capital lens—helps to have people and money
  • People—where do you find groups that have people jointly participating in making decisions—gaming
  • (Look at what Overwatch is doing to try to bring people together from diverse backgrounds and experiences)
  • Silicon Valley talent picture right now is notable
  • Moore’s law made so many cost savings so predictable. Made VCs lives easier in terms of where to place bets.
  • No matter what you think AI is going to do, you are going to underestimate it.
  • I think the optimization framing is fine. ML is really good at taking over things for efficiency. That’s not going to impact anybody more than it impacts programmers.
  • This is the time to start these projects, go get tech people to come help you because they are going to be available.

Questions for Panel 3

  • Tim: We live in an economy that is centrally planned by big tech, but they plan demand and not supply—an inversion of how we think about that. Managing public opinion—how do you manage the demand for consumption? Misinformation more profitable, we’re going to optimize for that. If you can manipulate demand, you can manipulate supply.
  • Federica: Danielle, you mentioned that designers are brokers. The question of legitimacy is thus at the heart of reimagining democracy—not sure we want prodigal tech bros
  • Josh: Struck by the assertion that it’s all about power. In sortition, we give a group of people quality information—how do you decide what quality information is.What’s the role for defined professional languages?
  • Lynette: Legibility becomes an obscure concept.
  • Danielle: Our biggest sociopolitical problem is scale and complexity. It has transformed our capacity for decision-making in all sectors.
  • Claudia: We’ve seen emphasis on breadth rather than quality or neutrality. Need new ways of learning. Ober tries to separate out democracy and liberalism. If we take the pure element of democracy—self-rule—that doesn’t inherently mean we end up with liberalism.
  • Danielle: I do think a framework of rights is necessary—that’s liberalism in a nutshell. When you define liberalism as non-sacrificeable
  • Charles: Two questions: This issue of public opinion and its absence in Chinese politics—does it follow that China could have effective outcomes without democratic machinery? And to Cory, people are talking about a crackdown on tech workers—crisis of measurability—saying that this is really a class struggle between two camps within big tech.
  • Alexis: I want to amplify the point about knowledge. Not all knowledge is propositional. What are our theories of change? If we diagnose the problem as a relevant gap in information, we try to give them more and better information.
  • Aviv: We have goal shrinking structures throughout society—how do we create sociotechnical systems that help us uphold pluralistic goals?
  • Glen: There are very different directions we can imagine technologies taking—interface flowing information back down to participants. Other designs that enable us to hear many things from each other, hold many different goals in our minds…heterogeneity very important to remember
  • Bruce: Henry and I wrote about the fact that autocracies and democracies treat information differently. It’s very hard for leaders to get information without enabling its flow back to the populace—China wants to know what people think, but doesn’t want people to know what people think.
  • Zoë: Commonly seen as a trade-off between public legibility and robust precision in policy domains. I accept that trade-off exists in many current systems, but I don’t think that it has to. So many technologies focus on harnessing scale and complexity. That trade-off between precision and legibility has actually deepened because of the way we’ve framed problems.
  • Cory: One of the classic failure modes is sacrificing metrics at the altar of simplicity—i.e., valuing engagement as the only thing you go after

Bruce Schneier December 14, 2022 9:43 PM

Panel 4 (day 1)

Benjamin Bratton

  • Writing a book The Stack: on Software and Sovereignty for MIT Press that includes a subject on planetary governance
  • Differentiating instrumental and existential technologies—purpose built for a narrow function vs. technologies that allow us to perceive the world differently.
  • AI clearly both instrumental and existential—not simply a matter of applying AI to democracy but about how AI redefines what democracy can and should be in this century
  • Differentiate political from governance—governance is one outcome of political processes but also has a cybernetic definition
  • Planetary scale computation is an accidental megastructure, composed of modular functional layers. Extends from earth to individual users. Not only something about which, but also an imminent direct physicalization of governance.
  • Multipolarization in multiple overlapping spheres
  • In his framework, democracy = governance optimizing for edge recursion as the means for collective intelligence
  • Not all edges are individual humans
  • Not all individual humans are edges
  • Governance is always dependent on its technical milieu
  • Governance is how technology makes politics
  • The idea of climate change is an accomplishment of planetary scale computation—investing tremendous political agency
  • His work questions anthropomorphism; we overlook legitimate forms of machine intelligence and mistake non-intelligence for sentience
  • AI is a phenomenon of landscapes
  • AI tracks all the phases of governance, simulation, modeling, and recursivity
  • The question is not just how to democratically construct AI, but how AI reconstructs democracy based on edge recursion and collective intelligence

Ted Chiang

  • Stewart Russell cited King Midas’s parable of AI doing what you tell it to do and not what you want it to do—but Midas is about greed, not about phrasing your wish to the gods carefully.
  • Instead of wish fulfillment, let’s think about AI as the McKinsey consulting firm—the firm says it does execution, not policy—provides escape from accountability as a service; “capital’s willing executioner”
  • If you imagine AI as a semi-autonomous software, how do you avoid it behaving like McKinsey? I don’t see that there is a technical or a legal solution that could guard against this. AI assists capital at the expense of labor. There isn’t anything like a labor consulting firm that furthers the interests of labor instead of management—could AI ever do that? It’s not the job of AI to strengthen capitalism but that is what it does.
  • Universal Basic Income is often brought up in conversations about technological unemployment. It would be one thing if we had UBI but we don’t—seems like a way to pass the buck to the government. Exacerbating the problems of capitalism while passing the buck to the future.
  • Slavoj Zizek—accelerationism—the only way to make things better is to make them worse—the only way to stop capitalism is to stomp on the gas pedal until the engine of neoliberalism explodes
  • If the plan is that the only way to avoid societal collapse is for the government to step in, this is very much accelerationism
  • I’m skeptical that AI poses an existential risk to humanity, but I am worried that it increases the power of capitalism
  • Worried that it helps companies become too powerful to be constrained by regulation
  • Capitalism IS the machine that prevents us from turning it off
  • Technology has become conflated with capitalism, which has become conflated with progress
  • What does progress even mean if it doesn’t mean better lives for people who work?
  • Taming vs. resisting capitalism—ways to use technology to promote consensus-building; is there any way for technologies to empower labor unions or worker-owned cooperatives? These are questions AI researchers need to be asking.
  • If we should derive a lesson from genie parables, it’s that we should be wary of wishes. Trying to get anything for free or without hard work is the problem. Thinking of AI as a magical tool is avoiding hard work. Taming capitalism is the hard work. Our willingness to do hard work is what divides a better world from a worse one.

Judith Donath

  • I don’t know if you’re conscious, I have to determine that based on a range of signals, some of which are hidden. John Maynard Smith—a signal is an act or structure that affects the evolution of other behaviors..
  • The core problem that communication has evolved to deal with. Lying is a good strategy, but if everything that is communicated is untrue, all communication fails. Signaling theory in biology is about what keeps communication honest enough to function. A signal is reliable if it is affordable to give if it’s true but unaffordable to give falsely.
  • Where are we in this world now where the technology of AI is much more capable of deceiving us into thinking there is real underlying intelligence—what are the costs there? We need to understand communication as defense against deception. Lots of technologies were invented to deceive people. What kind of a society do we want to have? What is our relationship with truth and honesty? We’ve also made technologies that make deception difficult—surveillance. What kind of relationship do we want to be building with the technologies that we have? What is the role of truth and lies in how we form groups? If we want language that functions. Not much human communication is in the form of costly signals, but we spend a lot of effort establishing trust through individual and tribal/group connections. Every word you say comes framed in the context of your tribe. Airbnb and Uber are effectively surveillance technologies that enable us to sleep at a stranger’s house or get in their car—convenience and efficiency provided in lieu of practicing trust, actively building it interpersonally.

Gillian Hadfield

  • Twenty years thinking about the design of legal and regulatory infrastructure, more recently the alignment problem in AI—is the machine doing what “we” want it to do? Economist, legal theorist—markets are alignment technologies.
  • Thought experiment—we’ve invented Big Green, and Big Green is good, it is accurate. And we want to know what we should do at different levels about climate. And Big Green is capable of taking massive amounts of data and telling us what’s working and what we should do.
  • ChatGPT, LLMs are transformative—the rewriting of how we do just about everything
  • (ChatGPT demo re: climate)
  • Let’s assume such a model is good and accurate, how would we make use of it?
  • At least three possible responses:
  • Don’t use AI for collective choice
  • Build in democratic oversight. If we are going to have ordinary folks oversee the implementation of recommendations, they’re going to have to be able to talk about them
  • Build AI with democratic endorsement and validation from the ground up.
  • Explainability is not really what we’re looking for, more like legal justifiability.

Saffron Huang

  • CS at DeepMind and launching Collective Intelligence Project
  • CI methods are processes and institutions for us to undergo collective decision-making
  • Generative AI—ML that can learn from content like text, video, code, and more to output really surprising content
  • Downsides to the training technique—tends to regurgitate falsehoods
  • ChatGPT is almost magical—general capabilities that can honor specific requests
  • Commercial applications are just starting. Second-order effects are largely unknown.
  • Generative AI depends on a digital commons—relying on Creative Commons, open source, Wikipedia, and more.
  • Stack Overflow banned ChatGPT on Monday saying the volume of plausible but wrong entries was overwhelming their content mods
  • Provenance of content is going to be a huge challenge
  • AI might not technically understand anything but it can manipulate words and symbols in ways that are meaningful to us
  • We might begin to homogenize and flatten discourse
  • How can we inject pluralism into the way generative AI is designed?
  • We’ve underinvested in governance tools that might need to be as networked as the technologies themselves.

Divya Siddharth

  • A robust social safety net is great for AI governance
  • Have some ideas about solutions—not perfect, nor perfectly post-capitalist, but worth thinking about what shifts our possible
  • When the problem is technological there might actually be a tech solution
  • Each layer of the stack requires power sharing—we don’t just need power sharing at an institutional level, we need them at technical levels
  • Actually existing AI systems fundamentally misconstrue the nature of intelligence, which is fundamentally relational, social, and cultural
  • Systems that want to create “emergent intelligence” will need to be deeply interdependent
  • How do we make sure benefits from these technologies are shared commensurately
  • Can we create blended ownership models building on things from the commons literature?
  • Technical layer might include liquid democracy structures; might necessitate remuneration
  • David Robinson, Voices in the Code, democratic input into kidney matching algorithms. Collaborative multi-stakeholder process to inform the algorithm. No perfect technocratic solution, there’s a conflict, someone gets a kidney someone doesn’t—and it works, but it took years
  • Can we govern all of our algorithms in this way? Probably not, we need new ways. Existing boundaries of democratic structures don’t match up well with AI systems. We are working on a deliberative democracy platform
  • Our social institutions determine what we build (whether surveillance and precarity or something else)—how do we build institutions that move us forward?
  • Exit to Community; funding questions; mixed-funding models, democratic matching funds,
  • These are questions of power, and that means we need to do two things:
  • Experiment with enabling collective decision-making systems
  • Build coalitions to enable those systems
  • What would it look like for a technological development to be good, actually? Build systems for communities to define what good means

Questions Panel 4

  • Bruce: What’s the process by which we cede power and decision-making to an algorithm? Without losing the expertise to do it ourselves.
  • Nick: Loved Ted’s question about how do we make AI work for labor. AI is incredibly expensive. Do we shift funding or change how corporations think about AI?
  • Primavera: Say more about the justifiability of AI
  • Gillian: We need totally different processes in order to ensure that we are using this problem solving technology. How do we reconstitute the relationship between this technology and human agency?
  • Judith: We create a myth about AI and the myth itself is dangerous—would be happy if we didn’t say “AI” anymore (many snaps). The message and the messenger are not completely separable. That we give Alexa a first-person voice imbues a moral relationship with that machine. Increasingly going to be seeing augmented humans—cheating already a problem in the chess world.
  • Ted: It’s one thing to consider whether I should let an algorithm make decisions for me, and an entirely different thing to ask should I let Amazon make decisions for me? Difficult to divorce the algorithm from the corporation right now, so currently the answer is always going to be no
  • Benjamin: With regard to Nick’s question, what kind of models does a society need to be able to recursively compose itself in a way that is viable in the long term. It’s not simply a matter of taking back the data that these companies have on us—that will not help; they have not been collecting the right data. The way in which there’s a cultural response to these transformations.
  • Aviv: Our existing AI ranking systems direct billions of eyeballs and set the stage for our media and our politics. Answering the question posed by Ted Chiang: I know of a union using a deliberative democracy platform—they had to stop using it because it was too expensive (Cybersyn in Chile)
  • Larry: Growing frustration with the conversation. The reality in America is that oligarchs have blocked the ability of government to function. When you talk about these interventions, what is the source of their power? What power steers this away from whatever the business model would happen to do?
  • Claudia: Point also related about power. Today the problem is really with where power lies and who is making the decisions. With climate change, the issue is not that we don’t know what to do. The issue is that we don’t have the political will to do them. Appreciated Ted’s point that we’ve conflated technology with progress.
  • Divya: We don’t have radically new answers to how you shift power. Different interventions for different power analyses.
  • Ada: Putting on my historian hat, if a government is dysfunctional, how do we change—usually, some big disruptor shows up. Historically, disasters.
  • Not just in the Goldilocks zone for tech, we’re also in a Goldilocks zone of crisis. Bad research seemed to suggest that Black Death > shortage of labor > what looked like economic mobility. When we studied more places more rigorously, there was no pattern to what happened except there was big change. Boom and bust, power in and out. Not predictable except that there would be tumult. Local policy decisions made in the next decade will be far more influential than those in the past decade.
  • Judith: Huge change happening from pandemic in terms of social effects

Bruce Schneier December 14, 2022 9:43 PM

DAY 2

Panel 1 (day 2)

Federica Carugati

  • Modern democracy does not seem to represent much of what citizens want, seeing the emergence of lots of opportunities for participatory inclusion
  • What might collective governance look like in the twenty-first century? (A social science project)
  • Governance archaeology is an attempt to engage communities of practice in institution building
  • Failure of institutions represents the failure of assumptions about people and governance (neoclassical behavioral assumptions—self-interest, utility maximization)
  • Margaret Levi and Federica expanded the range of empirical evidence for collective governance practices
  • Not about building new practices all the way down but collective gov includes practices of collective decision-making and rule enforcement
  • Data collection phase just ended—early conclusions include:
  • Sheer profusion of meaningful forms that collective governance has taken across human experience—and develops at many scales—always representative
  • Enormous diversity in structure of communities and types of institutions

Nick Couldry

  • Technology can radically pluralize how democracy works
  • Emerging combinatorial questions facing democratic systems, i.e., why shouldn’t populations forced to migrate by climate change have a say in where they go?
  • Two things are making resonance very difficult to sustain
  • Resonance is undermined by extreme inequality—possibility of shared narratives breaks down—not solvable by technology
  • Resonance also breaks down with the wrong kind of spatial design—might be solvable by technology
  • What is the right space-time architecture to contain all the particular spaces that democracy needs?
  • Need to dismantle the current platform-based architecture. Debates about Mastodon scaling are just a small part of this
  • Two principles needed:
  • Julie Cohen’s “semantic discontinuity” or the principle of designing and protecting the (social) spaces in-between, which don’t need to be online
  • The norm that makes the first principle possible: not always trying to connect; not insisting on regulating or profiting from all those spaces in between

Primavera De Filippi

  • Book this year Networked States (popular with blockchain crowd) recalls Snowcrash—government institutions breaking down; corps provide government services
  • Ethereum recalls Cryptonomicon—we can create our own currency, our own regulatory community, our own state
  • Blockchain-based Virtual Nations—decentralized borderless voluntary nation
  • Blockchains LLC planned to establish a 35,000-person smart city on land it bought in Nevada
  • Praxis, backed by Peter Thiel, raised $15M for a physical crypto-backed city
  • Nation States as “landlords” (infrastructure, land management, etc.) vs. “service providers” (identity management, education, welfare, etc.)
  • Virtual nation-states: opt-in citizenship; exit-based governance
  • Moving from state coercion to market dynamics (from citizens to consumers; from politics to consensus)
  • Majority of experimentation in the blockchain space buys wholesale into “free-market society” narrative; citizenship becomes a choice
  • Not explored enough: commons-based society—bottom-up approach to politics, spontaneous collaboration, direct participation
  • “Cryptocommons”—lots of discussions about DAOs, co-ops, regenerative finance, UBI, etc.

Nils Gilman

  • How do we decide what decisions should be made at what levels of government—Nick mentioned principle of subsidiarity
  • This runs counter to anthropocentrism and Aristotelian conceptions
  • Principle of subsidiarity comes up in Holy Roman Emperor, dies in Thirty Years War, comes back under Prussian (Protestant) monarchy
  • Way of resisting Protestant overlordship; co-opted by religious authorities to resist secularization; re-co-opted by secular authorities
  • Principle: decision rights and responsibilities should fall at the lowest level of government they can be handled by—want to argue for reversal of this, based on planetary challenges
  • Yesterday’s conversation upheld human exceptionalism and the human/nonhuman binary a bit too much—we are all interdependent ecosystems
  • Very idea of an (independent/individual) liberal subject is a falsehood—radical rethinking of who is included in the democratic process
  • Humans are fundamentally disrupting many of the planetary systems we are operating in—planetary scale problems demand planetary scale solutions
  • Another inversion of subsidiarity—many things do need to be delegated down, but some categories of challenges need to be delegated UP, and we don’t have the institutions to support this
  • Our planetary scale institutions need to be accountable to planetary challenges, not to individual nation-states
  • What should those institutions look like? World Federalist Movement has existed since 1940s—hasn’t gone anywhere—skeptical because a single point of failure with a general purpose government
  • Discrete, topically focused planetary scale institutions to deal with particular problems
  • Who is going to populate these institutions—question of expertise—process of expert knowledge creation is how we know we have these problems, but we don’t want JUST experts
  • Sortition should be a central feature
  • Even if fungus cannot speak, we still need ways to include their voice—we need experts who are equipped, like the Lorax, to speak for the trees. Not necessarily scientific experts, could be indigenous—pluralize idea of expertise

Manon Revel

  • Who should represent us in political systems?
  • How can we change the selection rules for US Congress—one point in the process that can have long-term downstream effects
  • Elections currently associated with oligarchic rule
  • Focus on two goals: inclusiveness and political equality
  • If we have selection rules that prioritize these goals, we are likely to end up with diversity, which is intrinsically and instrumentally interesting
  • Sortition has come up as an ultimate form of representation—want to challenge this
  • Sortition is inclusive of everyone, but what does it mean to be included in a sortition system? Even in example systems with high representation, you might have a 4% lifetime chance of being included in a sorted body
  • Sortition also creates a tension between political equality and inclusion—most people who receive the letter don’t actually participate in citizen assemblies
  • Some people who receive letters might not be capable of sitting
  • Algorithms (best algorithm for sortition developed at Harvard) introduce trade-offs
  • Sortition not necessarily the ultimate form
  • Nominations can take many different shapes—options in terms of how we do this
  • When I reimagine democracy I struggle to imagine the emergence of a perfect system
  • Democracy will remain a messy business

Glen Weyl

  • Using math to deconflict notions of political neutrality/equality:
  • Democracy—equality across people
  • Capitalism—equality across money
  • Westphalianism—equality across a collective entity
  • Hard to do all of these at the same time—we manage to get by but these are breaking down for a lot of reasons, including how environmental harms cannot be accounted for by Westphalian systems
  • Our aspiration for social science should be to show people new forms of interdependence so they can find each other and govern themselves—new publics that self-govern
  • One half-step more mathematical equality might allow us to engage with multiple conflicting forms of neutrality
  • Degressive proportionality—invented by Lionel Penrose (statistician and eugenicist)
  • If you have two contradictory principles of equality, an elegant solution is to split the difference—use the square root instead of the equality differential
  • We want to acknowledge that countries matter, and that populations matter, so we’ll split the difference
  • There is ecological, mathematical, and other levels of support for this
  • Correlating unit is the collective nation
  • Quadratic voting and quadratic funding—people use their tokens, but that gets down-weighted by the square root
  • If we want a notion of equal voice, we need to down-weight sources of correlation relative to uncorrelated things
  • Working with Danielle Allen, Audrey Tang, and others to think about plurality and cooperation across difference

Questions for Day 2 Panel 1:

  • Cory: How identity fits into the structures that have been mentioned—identity is susceptible to many of the same trust issues—curious how those risks impact what you are all describing in terms of structures
  • Larry: Three small questions—Federica—are juries on your list? Nick—as you think deeply about media studies, is the presupposition that we live in the same world real anymore? Nils—subjects are often trade-offs; what’s the structure that enables prioritizing between different problems?
  • Nick: What I’m trying to get at with the idea of resonance—it only needs to go far enough to stabilize decision-making. If we create enough spaces in between digital spaces, we have a better chance of achieving significant resonance. Fire breaks between places we know are likely to have wild fires.
  • Federica: Richness of archaeology can be used to enrich jury processes
  • Nils: Elizabeth Colbert wrote about how solving the carbon problem might inflame the biodiversity problem—acknowledge there are trade-offs and priority issues
  • Primavera: If you want to experiment with any democratic type of government, you need to not just be able to identify different kinds of people, you need a singularity of identities. So many experiments on the blockchain but none of them are democratic, because you need a singularity of identities—a big gap to fill, you need a central body to distinguish between identities. Paradox—how do we create an identity system acceptable to blockchain people?
  • Glen: Skeptical that the key issue is singular human identities; it might be group memberships, an intersectional conception of identity—a contextual fabric of group (has been called “Intersectional individuality”). There’s an underlying OS for democratic systems—and it’s identity. But democracy is deeply limiting in a voice sense—what we want is a social vision.
  • Nick: Identity grounds participation. If you remove the fire breaks and amplify identity,
  • Claudia: Challenged by the notion of political equality being separate from democracy. Hearing a sense of fatalism about the best we can do is incrementally improve oligarchic rule. Can we not imagine some more ambitious change happening?
  • James: Really glad to hear our more-than-human comrades re-entering the conversation. A little bit troubled by humans having to speak for the nonhumans. Question of resonance with more-than-humans. Archaeological record supports
  • Gillian: Lots of discussion of preferences, but let’s remember that’s a construct, doesn’t actually exist in people’s head. We are constituting ourselves all the time through these processes. Crucial to acknowledge that there are trade-offs, that’s how selection rules work. Just want to be able to think about them in a principled matter.
  • Primavera: Radical vs. incremental depends on the institution that we are talking about. Need to find spaces of experimentation where we can learn by failure. Test efficacy of different design approaches to discover what works in what context.
  • Nick: Starting to feel a sense of dissonance between our life trajectories and those of nonhuman animals. Sense of nature as a reference point for all politics in South American indigenous communities.
  • Glen: I can be part of fifty different governance projects across different contexts and at different scales.
  • Nils: Chemical sensor networks being set up by forestry teams to test stress levels in forest networks
  • Gideon: Primavera, can you point to any good examples of bottoms-up democratic experiments that use a blockchain where the problem solved by the blockchain would be more difficult to solve without it
  • Judith: Nonhuman others—politics might not be right way to think about it—have to find the ways to navigate what people think of as their own self-interest. A lot of the political and technological decisions we’re making now are moving in the opposite direction.
  • Mathias: Bruno Latour’s Parliament of Things, reflecting the embeddedness of humans in everything else—I am constituted by everything else around me. Once you have breakdown of dualism, acceptance of hybridity, this absolutely connects to the indigenous conversation and climate. Rearticulation of indigenous principles.
  • Primavera: Less path dependency in blockchain experimentation space, it’s fertile. Often you could remove the blockchain and community could function the same way, but that’s not how it’s happening.
  • Nick: You don’t necessarily need Latour—Edmund Burke—valuing those close to us. We are close to nonhuman beings. Need to design the spaces in which these representations play out.
  • Federica: Trying to think about collective governance as subtle forms of normativity.

Bruce Schneier December 14, 2022 9:48 PM

Panel 2 (Day 2)

Gojko Barjamovic

  • Similar to our own society, the first cities were on the cusp of fundamental technologically and culturally fueled change on a societal scale with consequences that they could not have anticipated. And they too were led by circumstance to experiment with new life forms, developing a plurality and fluidity of political constitutions.
  • Areas of the economy delegated to a class of officials collectively responsible for management. The attempt to reach a level of functional egalitarianism and avoid favoring a single group or entity required the monitoring of collective resources. This depended on the appropriation and retailoring of an older information technology (clay tokens).
  • But the scale of information fell out of sync with what technology could manage and new ways had to be developed to deal with them. Unlike the previous tech, which was relatively simple to implement, the first cities saw the complexities of a writing system tied to clay tablets emerge alongside a class of specialists in charge of recording and retrieval.
  • These specialists came to control data and platform maintenance. A superabundance of information led to the end of the simpler technology for a more complex and proprietary one. The result was societally disruptive, though perhaps not by intent, and eventually came do dissociate controllers from controlled.

Sorcha Brophy

  • Working through thoughts on accessibility, infrastructure, and public space
  • How our economic system shapes what’s possible
  • With her class at UChicago, tried to reimagine healthcare—students really struggled to get past assumptions about and formats of neoliberal healthcare
  • Now teaching policy and administration students, they care about ethics but only able to imagine tweaks and add-ons to fundamentally inaccessible and inequitable systems
  • Focus group: People’s ideas about how to fix the system evade the real pain points; participants tend to reify a scarcity/austerity mindset, assumption of resource constraints
  • Challenges imply an economic infrastructure that doesn’t incentivize or align with full participation

Charles Mudede

  • Writer for the Stranger for past 20 years
  • Going to talk about Wakanda, in the style of Leibnitz
  • Interested in how the society worked—not democracy but a bunch of fighting where the winner took power—physical strength and endurance qualified you to be a leader
  • Surprised they wouldn’t replicate something like a democratic process from Botswana
  • Using the 1983 book Time, Labor and Social Domination to make an inquiry into technology in the West
  • Capitalism as a specific historical formation, with the appearance of a Newtonian absolute, where the project is maintaining a form of growth that has no end in sight
  • Must be sustained or redetermined by the concrete realities of the physical world
  • Time is fixed—what you make in an hour can change but not the hour
  • Increased productivity only redetermines what is contained in a unit of time

Daniel Schmachtenberger

  • Technology and global existential risk are inextricable
  • The aspect of technology that involves time compression—we often think about technology through power—this is critical to theories of governance
  • Observe/Reason/Act has been dominant in the military, inconsistent with long-term planning. The speed of technological progress outpaces governance (DDT, lead, gasoline do a ton of harm by the time they are regulated; imagine AI)
  • Does the governance system have the right information processes and right rates of change to support governing complexity
  • Totally novel catastrophic risk era based on tech stack, AND acknowledge that civilizational collapse is the norm in history
  • The landscape of global catastrophic risk creates constraints for what governance systems must grapple with
  • Joseph Tainter—looking at histories of collapse
  • We’ve never had a global civilization before—six-continent supply-chains and the rest of the reasons for it—we’re encountering conditions that have historically led to collapse
  • Retrofits on existing system are inadequate to deal with the space of risk
  • What does a governance system have to do
  • Civilization doesn’t self-terminate in the near-term
  • How do you make a governance system compatible with our tech stack and the scale of planetary challenges

Alexis Shotwell

  • Non-ideal theory
  • We ought to recognize that the individual is the wrong unit of analysis for working with wicked problems
  • Any vector we look at historically or contemporaneously is animated by desperately horrifying conditions of oppression
  • Have been interested in what it looks like to take a model of repair and maintenance as our baseline when working with wicked problems
  • Many of us would like to not be breaking the world, but we don’t have the social conditions to NOT be horribly complicit in desperate harm
  • Personally, I want a world without capitalism and borders, and you might want different worlds, but we might think about nurturing worlds in which many worlds can thrive
  • Stay with the trouble, stay with the mess

Jo Walton

  • Science fiction and fantasy writer, going to talk about thoughts that science fiction has had on these problems. Often science fiction is a crucible for looking at the present and the past and imagining different ways of doing things in the future
  • Not going to talk about British-Empire-in-space genre but instead democratic experiments
  • 1953: Neville Shute wrote In the Wet, in which a future Australia has become an amazing utopia by the system of having up to seven votes per person, where you get one for being alive, another for finishing your education, working abroad, clergy, raising two kids to college age without divorce, entrepreneurship without college education, knighthood for extraordinary service (not recommending reading it; less racist than other books of the time but still jarring)
  • 1956: Robert Heinlein’s Double Star, western parliamentary style democracy in space—big issue is will they extend votes to Martians? Government by human beings and for human beings, they do extend
  • 1959: Starship Troopers, where only veterans get to vote
  • 1966: The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, an AI mediated election—characters see AI as a positive force but it’s certainly not neutral
  • 1974: Ursula Le Guin’s The Dispossessed, an anarchist revolution within an anarchist system (recommend this one)
  • 1975: Marge Piercy’s Woman on the Edge of Time—notable for having people who speak for nonhuman entities (land, water, air, domestic animals, wild animals)
  • 1976: Samuel Delany’s Triton—devolved democracy with a lot of subsidiarity. Government surveillance—put money in a booth and see random footage of you
  • 1980: Robert Heinlein’s Expanded Universe—a gazillion bizarre ideas about democracy. The right to vote if you pay money, which is the government’s only source of revenue. Have to solve a quadratic equation to vote. Only women vote—suffrage didn’t make things better, maybe that’s because men still vote. Or only mothers vote, because they have a stake in the future.
  • Malka Older’s Infomocracy—micro democracies but still looks like US
  • Cory Doctorow
  • Ada Palmer
  • Ministry of the Future—UN Ministry thinking about climate change

Questions for Panel 2

  • Benjamin: would love Daniel and Alexis to take up the idea of individuals being the wrong unit for analysis. If there’s no tabula rasa thinking, interventions will have to work with existing structures. What constitutes jurisdictionality of what in this regard?
  • Daniel: Most of the solutions to multipolar traps cause a tragedy of the commons problem. Check the concentration of power trap and the distribution of power trap. Governance has to happen at the scale at which cause and effect occurs—whether bioregion, tied to supply chain zone, etc. Do think there is a proof of how you get past these traps—it doesn’t look like multilateralism of states.
  • Alexis: Returning to non-fungibility. Everything that renders things fungible is a bad fiction. We have relations at various scale, and can map forms of responsibility onto those relations.
  • Daniel: Fungibility is evil but it wins in the short term. We have to make things that don’t lose if everyone doesn’t do them, but that also have the right characteristics for long-term viability.
  • Gillian: One of the things that might be helpful to come back to, from Sorcha and Gojko, the mundane experience… Alexis, emphasis on relation as the unit of analysis. We focus on getting in a room and coming up with the rules. We don’t pay enough attention to asking what’s the relational experience, the information I’m getting about the world that we live in? Getting away from a high-level focus on what the constitution should say, and think more about the person getting dropped off without someone to open the door—neglect of the care we can experience
  • Sorcha: Imagining from the ground-up without addressing existing grievances and limitations. We were going to bring people in on problem solving, but problem solving was limited by people’s perception that these things aren’t solvable. Positive experiences were relational—after investing fifteen years with the same doctor. Can’t just forget the legacy of how people have been treated.
  • Manon: Art is the last realm where democracy is a possible experience. Abolishing the boundary between autonomy and praxis. Functions on a representative level AND is operative.
  • Gojko: Push back on functionalist approaches to societal collapse…there is rarely a coinciding between political collapse and societal collapse. When societies stop providing answers to fundamental questions (less functional approach)—collapse happens with a whimper, not with a bang.
  • Manon: Common thread is the evolution of social values. All futurism is retrofuturism. All of it will sound strange. We don’t have the words we need to talk about the problems we face. Yes, the relation is central. Procedurally, how do we go about that? Substantively, what do future values look like?
  • Charles: Distinction between social and cultural values is critically important—eating, transportation, all of those things Marxists call use values. Huge emphasis that somehow we live in a natural world. Social and cultural are interlinked. But distinction of culture is important—it creates a sense of malleability.
  • All of the things we produce in society are cultural products. Baudrillard’s Mirror of Production is so useful; he critiques use value.
  • Jo: T.S. Eliot, next year’s words await another voice. We can only ever act now.
  • Tim: Briefly want to share my own experience with AI. You only have a single optimization goal, but it was whack-a-mole. Being able to train an AI model on what good looks like—suddenly it takes lots and lots of factors into account. Closer to what Daniel was asking for, that it operates at the scale of the problem

Bruce Schneier December 14, 2022 9:49 PM

Panel 3 (Day 2)

Ryan Calo

  • Distinctions
  • Misinfo vs Disinfo
  • Misinfo is just incorrect information
  • Disinfo is a strategy or a campaign—not just things that are false but true things too, and opinions. Bring people onboard and accomplish a goal
  • Speech vs. action
  • Section 230 used by platforms as a shield
  • Some strategic litigation happening

Julie Cohen

  • Appropriation of major categories of resources
  • Emergence of the platform as a new core organizational logic of economic production
  • Platform as privatized extraction strategies
  • Power learns to reroute around regulation
  • Information intermediaries that use data-driven, algorithmic methods, and standardized modular interconnection protocols to facilitate digitally networked interactions and transactions among their families
  • There’s a set of dialogues about routing around surveillance with tech bro stuff (DAOs)
  • Data for Black Lives and others talk about surveillance abolition
  • Kate Raworth Doughnut Economics

Evan Lieberman

  • Went to South Africa for the first time as a university student; reflects the challenge of democracy. People have been talking about the challenges of institutions. The problem is us—we are group-y, we tend to overvalue in-group heuristics to make sense of policies and practices, lots of cognitive biases, prone to confirmation bias. Makes governance difficult, can’t wish it away. Proportionality and democracy give people a sense of stake in the system, a sense that their place in the system can change/improve.
  • People who see themselves represented in the system through proportionality feel like they have a stake in the system.
  • When we come to understand citizens’ particular policy positions, our notions of proportionality in terms of descriptive representation—we have a thin or superficial menu about things that we have information about. Should be able to understand the dimensions of different policy proposals.
  • More bullish about South Africa than others, but I do think rethinking proportionality offers some way forward for a richer democracy that connects different types of people at different points in the system.

Deb Roy

  • People on the sidewalk vs. people in cars—once people are in cars they are raging
  • Seeing the humanity of others is necessary for democracy to function
  • Sitting down with people for small group conversation, where you can bring in clips from other sessions and have people respond; so there’s connection across conversations
  • The people who show up to these discussions are very diverse, more engaged than your average
  • Piloting at MIT. Consent based sharing of voice recordings
  • Circles are limited in size
  • Circles form communities
  • Civic muscle-building—people gravitate to roles—someone serves as facilitator, someone cross-pollinator, sensemaker,
  • 10% of Twitter’s revenue comes from data licensing

Zachary Stein

  • AI tutoring systems are coming
  • More fundamental than the polis is the idea—the process by which society reconstitutes itself through intergenerational transmission
  • Screens and devices disrupt intergenerational transmission
  • What are humans actually capable of doing
  • We’re facing a catastrophic crisis of adolescent mental health
  • Digital environment is
  • Digital intermediary between the child and all human relationships
  • What this looks like from the perspective of civilizational collapse is a generation fundamentally raised by machines
  • Already, where do they get most of their language? Where do they get most of their frames of the world? Is it content customized to you based on total surveillance of your online behavior?
  • This recipe could be the most powerful customized education you could imagine, or the most powerful propaganda machine
  • Created a technology that has obsoleted human relationship
  • Tech guys say woohoo—teachers suck—they want to obsolete teachers
  • Here, we will have a market-driven competition for these intelligent tutoring systems—what will they be designed to do?
  • China will have one or a small set of systems designed to help China succeed as a nation
  • In addition to amplifying cognitive and economic inequality, this will create a generation raised by machines
  • Existential risk literature describes “values lock in”: a totalizing values system locked in by technology through to psychology
  • Second book, Education in a Time Between Worlds

Ethan Zuckerman

  • UMass Amherst, thinking about the public sphere
  • Reading newspapers from the 1780s and 1790s—buy them on eBay for $30
  • By contemporary standards, these papers suck. They’re 50%–60% advertising. Investigative reporting won’t be invented for 100 years.
  • Mostly reprinted letters and reporting on what’s going on in Congress
  • Newspaper was rife with propaganda and disinfo—Sam Adams was the Steve Bannon of his era
  • The memetic technology of the time was Paul Revere’s engravings
  • Newspaper was only one part of the public sphere. You can’t have a democracy without a public square. People need to hear what is going on in the world and have discursive spaces to determine what they think about them, who should we elect, etc.
  • Eighteenth century filled with this—meeting houses alternate between religious and political meetings
  • Large number—not all—people are participating in governance
  • People participating in clubs, including essay writing. In the commonwealth of Massachusetts, you have mandatory literacy for boys and girls
  • Robust system to prepare people to participate in the public square
  • Today, how we learn about the world is faltering, how we talk about the world has been upended by privatized social media platforms
  • Benjamin Rush (signer of the Declaration of Independence) believed that the US needed free postage in the postal service, because it would be the “non-electric wire of government”
  • First policy implementation is that first class mail is expensive, newspaper is free. Free to exchange copies between newspaper, copy and reuse content. By the 1830s we were a post office with a small government tacking onto it.
  • US has a long history of subsidizing infrastructure of the public sphere
  • At this moment where social media is failing our needs so badly—
  • Smalltown—the world’s most boring social network
  • All you can talk about is what’s going on at town meetings
  • Building out an architecture to talk about three things—platforms, filters, and aggregators
  • Platforms—a mix of small, large, corporate, civic, and community
  • Filters—commercial but also

Questions for Panel 3 day 2

  • Rob: Not immune to the framing of catastrophic risk but skeptical. Is there something you/we want to say that’s distinctive about ML that raises genuinely novel questions re catastrophic risk; where my perspective is that a catastrophizing impulse pops up over time
  • Zak: Long history of thinking about the topic of existential risk, and a longer history of talking about the apocalypse. The apocalypse is a moral event, the end of days. Existential risk is about a technological overreach. Long history of scientific study. Daniel and I are trying to bring visibility to an expert discourse that has been going on behind the scenes for a long time. We’re facing a self-imposed species extinction that was not technologically possible.
  • Larry: Framing around the technology that I want to challenge—is the problem the technology or is the problem the business model. Julie, you directly engaged the business model, but I was never convinced if the problem was the platform or the business model. Reddit vs. Twitter—one might be more problematic than the other. Might be that the problem is not the technology but its brand. We can do something about business models, more than we can stop AI or technology.
  • Julie: Information has structure, amplitude, time compression, and it’s necessary to think about how it travels and the consequences it produces, and about dominant players, but it’s necessary to do all of those things
  • Ryan: Sometimes technology offers new affordances that permit business models that weren’t previously possible
  • Ethan: Responding to Julie as much as Larry, these models are only fifteen years old. We’re pretty new in the surveillance hypercapitalism sphere. Governance feels locked in stone because these platforms are huge. We are thirty years into Thatcher and Reaganism. If we could get back to public investment, we could see change very quickly
  • Julie: Flash crash was 1987, we’ve been dealing with technologically-intermediated disruptions for more than fifteen years
  • Ada: Would love the panel to comment on what we in censorship studies call the “early adopter” effect, where first adopters will be people not being served by the old technology. Creation of a new platform fills quickly with the voices who were not being served by the old regimes. So all sorts of marginalized communities will flock to new communications platforms/ information medium. If we’re trying to build something for social good, how do we grapple with the fact that the first ones there will be the scariest people
  • James: How do the things you’re talking about vary across geography and culture? Some of the remarks seemed quite specific but framed as universal
  • Ethan: Ada is correct. Re James, European public broadcasters
  • Ryan: Similar misinformation dynamics in different contexts, but different legal regimes, so enormous variation in the levers you have to address them
  • Claudia: Loved Deb’s presentation in particular. Shows the way tech can help with more human elements. Ryan—I’ve always thought of missing as the symptom of the root problem. Why would people believe in conspiracy theories? It’s related to existential anxiety and lack of sense of belonging. Book recommendation—The Extended Mind, we learn through social interaction. By teaching others we learn better.
  • Ryan: Let’s also not forget that the strategy is to weaponize things like critical race theory
  • Cory: I don’t understand the mechanisms whereby those harms would be avoided by a redistributive network
  • Julie: We haven’t talked about data brokers but we need to. Unless we imagine them out of existence, there is going to exist the capacity, will and motivation to assemble large pools of data and use it to these things. Datafication of the platform structure. If you don’t want that to happen you need some government. Nick Seaver has a paper about content recommendation, an anthropological double bind that people fall into the binary of assuming scale and care are opposed to one another.

Bruce Schneier December 14, 2022 9:49 PM

Panel 4 (Day 2)

Joshua Fairfield

  • How we use language to get ahead of law
  • Law is the sharpened end of the language we use to talk about the world we want to live in together
  • Wittgenstein, STS, law threads
  • To produce the kind of language we need to deal with the problems of the future, we need to understand how language helps us think in communities and how we form communities that we
  • How do we talk about the things that we don’t have words to talk about
  • Clifford Gertz said humanity is an animal suspended in webs of significance that we ourselves have spun
  • I’m going to use the word “language” in a way that is maddeningly close to “culture”
  • I hope that the word democracy has different resonances for you after the last two days, and that the process by which this has happened was a conversation
  • Someone will say, there’s a concept here and I’ll call it “X”—naming a neologism is one of the ways we try to move forward
  • We evolve in historical time by upgrading our culture
  • We meet the challenges of the future by finding new words, new webs of description
  • I am not talking about LLMs—I’m talking about the process of natural language generation by humans in parallel conversations
  • Democracy is not synonymous with election
  • Changing the meaning of words is how our common ability to make meaning evolves
  • The individual is the wrong unit when we are talking about language
  • Wittgenstein says language is ONLY between us, there is no private language
  • Language evolves between us when we are speaking to another human as a function of context
  • When we’re talking to a non-human, that is hunting our consumer surplus, we’re not developing language in the way we have been
  • Something that talks like us, looks like us, but doesn’t follow that trend
  • Our collective ability to think and depend on our language is threatened by a machine intelligence
  • We’re going to have to watch that, and probably stop it

Henry Farrell

  • Want to take the discussion that Tim and Rob were having and try to widen it in a specific way
  • Right after Obama was elected, I was invited to one of the O’Reilly conferences. Lots of liberal left people who thought this was the new coming, that democracy was not only solvable but about to get solved
  • It was refreshing to be with problem solvers, instead of problem analyzers—how do we bring that mentality to democracy
  • Aaron Swartz as a linkage between Rob and Tim—a different path that could have been taken by Silicon Valley—piecemeal democratic engineering—no grand plans, but figure stuff out on the fly, iterate iterate iterate.
  • Would love to see coming out of this, a project of piecemeal democratic engineering. History is a palimpsest—you have to work with what you’ve got. Ada and Jo’s work are very relevant. Ada’s novels about a twenty-fifth-century democracy—the EU factors heavily—institutions that are disregarded can be reconfigured for new uses
  • Danielle’s forthcoming book gives us a lot to think about in terms of the practice of democracy. We are not going to be able to do without coalitional politics. Parties and other coalition structures are not only necessary they are fundamental building blocks. Group decision-making—biases can be detected through appropriate group structures
  • Under what circumstances are our institutions
  • Ruthanna Emrys’s A Half-Built Garden asks what if we tried to build institutions, ML, networks not built on biases but based on trying to correct them

Aviv Ovadya

  • Berkman Klein affiliated
  • Trying to harness the power of technology
  • Assume 10–100 critiques for everything I mention
  • Prefer governance by democracy to governance by market
  • How do we do democracy globally? How do we govern the space of spaces, to borrow Nick’s term
  • How do we support a tensional environment around democracy
  • How do we build capacity for all of this before it becomes much harder
  • Democracy for Technology
  • Global tech companies and their products should be democratically governed
  • May be possible to do this radically and step by step
  • Twitter was planning to implement a pilot deliberation before the takeover
  • Caveat—I am slightly co-opted; if you’re familiar with Kate Klonick and the Oversight Board, no NDA, I got to observe—and it’s a giant mess, as any giant distributed event will be
  • Two things we can do—Advocacy and standards work;
  • Technology for Democracy
  • Collective Response Systems—principles: participative agency, parallel voting, resonance installation
  • Divya mentioned governance as conflict—there’s a tool used by the UN in Libya that actually seemed to work. Trust in the transitional process actually improved.
  • Process created collective resonance

Ada Palmer

  • Hopepunk is a speculative genre that explores hope as a form of resistance—in a world so saturated by cynicism, stories about positive futures that are not utopias but hard work, just a little bit better than our own
  • Our own system is encrusted by 200 years of oligarchic corruption, but we can look at another
  • Sortition failed four times in Machiavelli’s lifetime including:
  • Cosimo de’ Medici had a third of the country on his payroll
  • Rise of the charismatic demagogue—Savonarola
  • Failure of resonance—a strong pro-theocratic
  • I would argue we face all these failure circumstances: concentrated resources, conditions allowing for rapid demagoguery,; extreme polarization, and disagreement
  • Despite successive failures, Renaissance Florence survived
  • When asked to do something for their country, a large portion of the citizens will assent
  • Lack of feeling that government is something we can trust
  • Oligarchic republic in Florence—small fraction had voice in government, rest were disenfranchised but largely ready to lay down their lives for Florence
  • Machiavelli stayed loyal to Florence even when it banished him—he sent his son to die fighting to defend Florence, after he was banished
  • Machiavelli loves Florence despite four complete collapses of government, even when nuns claimed they were being ruled by a ghost
  • Lots of transformations, including the expansion of unions
  • But also a lack of confidence from the left and the right, in the idea that government can be helped
  • Patterns in the history of conservatism, much older than the idea that laws should bind, conservatism is characterized by the belief that some people are better suited to governing than others
  • Dangers of optimization thinking—we see how Silicon Valley is prone to this thinking—one of the channels that tips people quickly from progressivism to conservatism
  • Eighteenth century shift was all people are considered equally educable
  • Up until the eighteenth century, it was believed that less than 10% of people were capable of rational thought
  • Need to restore confidence in that fact before we reinvent democracy we have to fix the belief that fixing democracy would actually help

Bruce Schneier

  • Ada gave my point—thinking of systems in terms of hackability. Think of the tax code, it has loopholes and exploits and accountants. A hack is something a system permits that’s unintended by the designers. Subversions of rules that change the system. What happens when AI starts doing that kind of thing. Idea that AIs can become a creative force to find loopholes and exploit them.
  • Reward hacking–where an AI solves a problem in a way that humans didn’t expect
  • Real moral of the King Midas story is that there’s no way NOT to program the wish wrong into the system. In human language and thought, goals and desires are always underspecified. We are good at filling in contextual gaps with each other.
  • Engineers at Volkswagen faked an engine control test.
  • “We have Paleolithic emotions, medieval institutions, and god like technology”—EO Wilson
  • AI changes hacking’s speed, scale, scope, sophistication
  • Can we use the same technologies that created this potential to notice these hacks before they’re used to hack humanity in ways that are really disastrous?

Jamie Susskind

  • As the last speaker maybe I can offer some summative remarks
  • Jaffa cakes—staple of the British diet—tax dispute in front of the House of Commons—is a Jaffa cake a biscuit or a cake covered in chocolate?
  • (He is a barrister in England and Wales)
  • They looked at the distinction between cakes and biscuits from several dimensions—but a Jaffa cake is neither, has characteristics of both, but was something new
  • Wittgenstein said the limits of my language mean the limits of my world
  • I think he meant sometimes we struggle to think about the future because we don’t have the words to describe it
  • In the period between 1749 and 1848, the following words were coined or reminted: industry, factory, middle class, socialism, liberalism, conservatism, scientist, engineer, ideology
  • How do we describe Facebook? Like mass media, form of mass media, like the town square, like a nation-state—Facebook is none of these and all of them, we don’t have the words to describe what it is, and outside China the majority use it. Reminded of a story about Henry Ford saying that people would have asked for faster horses. Half this room might see future democracy like faster horses. The other half might see the future of democracy as something radically different.
  • Some of the ideas we’ve heard:
  • Sortition—really an old idea (faster horses)
  • ChatGPT performing political education (faster horses)
  • ChatGPT participating in the deliberative process (is that faster horses?)
  • Imagine something in your pocket that votes on your behalf 1,000 times per day (definitely not faster horses)
  • Part of our task is to create the political vocabulary that doesn’t yet exist
  • I think we all agree that digital technologies have political implications
  • Every disagreement in the past few days boils down to capitalism vs. technology
  • Don’t be surprised when a system designed for one purpose does not meet another purpose
  • (The court ruled it was a cake)

Questions for panel 4 day 2

  • Primavera: Do think it’s important to create new words for what is coming, but words have a powerful performative element. Is there a need to work from the inside by educating people and providing a conceptual toolkit for things people don’t notice? Like “secondhand smoking”—where awareness of impact comes through performative vocabulary and leads to behavior change.
  • Mathias: Want to put two thoughts next to each other: Fermi paradox in physics says chances are overwhelming that we’re alone in the universe but there’s also no proof. One solution is that there is a lot of intelligent life out there but it tends to go extinct before it reaches out. Second, adaptive leadership is very popular here at HKS, adjustment to the new phase of problems. The people in charge are the worst people to look for solutions, they are benefiting from the status quo. Opportunities to create subversive thinking.
  • Josh: Cross-cutting, deliberative groups seem to come to better solutions faster
  • Larry: Inspired by what Ethan said about public spaces, I wonder what Aviv thinks about building public spaces in company towns. @Ada, the failures of sortition are worse in elections—i.e., money—these are not arguments against sortition with respect to elections
  • Charles: Mariana Mazucatto talks about how states develop most of the building blocks and then the markets become privatized—is this an argument for increased regulation?
  • Jamie: A lot of tech products were the result of state funding—yes, this is one justification for why they ought to be subject to regulation. I believe if you create something that has dire consequences for democracy, you should be subject to regulation regardless of who funded it. I try to resist the economic mindset—it doesn’t matter who bought it, it matters what the consequences are for society.
  • Ada: I wasn’t arguing against sortition, but pointing out that the threats to sortition are threats to many of the things we are talking about. Wealth disparity. Talk to Cory, or Elizabeth Warren. Fascinating: the EU has four presidents. The fact that no one can keep it straight actually does some good work. We should always ask, what will happen when this becomes encrusted with corruption, polarization, demagoguery, and threats from the outside. Students come in believing political action is pointless. I spend a lot of time convincing my students that things used to be worse. Despair is how we lose.
  • Alexis: Any thoughts about AI and infrastructure through framework of society for people who care about boring things?
  • Nils: Two places to look for the future: at the center of power and at the margins; what we’re calling democracy now might be an anachronism we shouldn’t be wedded to
  • Gideon: Not sure we are actually talking about democracy or actually pluralism, or power-sharing. Guessing we share the same set of progressive values here, would be good to include more conservative and international voices
  • Nick: Question of how we delegate decisions. Are we clear about what the limits of the concept of democracy are, and will we know if we’ve stepped over it
  • Judith: Where do we think next about this—asking questions about how these systems can and whether they should be capable of knowing us well enough to intervene in our democracy

Paul Lock December 14, 2022 10:52 PM

I’m always concerned when I hear talk of wholesale revamping of democracy. I applaud your investigation of options, but I would ask that you entertain the notion that we have it mostly right.

If you consider the 100 worst leaders in the world, you’ll find yourself listing the locations of the worst humanitarian issues, damaged rights, wars, and corruption. If the UN enforced some minimum standards of democratic process, we would likely be rid of most of those leaders.

What processes need standards? A list of just 5 would knock most of the bad guys out of power and improve our democratic outcomes;
• certified election process
• strict limits on campaign funding
• hard term limits
• regular elections
• robust conflict of interest laws

My NGO certainly has a longer list, but I state these few to demonstrate how close we are to a much better world.

In Canada we have curbs on free speech too. It is a criminal offense for anyone to issue hateful language. The GCHRD would like to see this type of law expanded to target any public figure issuing lies, disinformation or fomenting for political or personal gain. We already have these curbs in the form of contract, libel and fraud laws, that protect money. Having the same protections for public discourse, plus just 5 standards of process and you can start imagining a world without Brexit, Trump, Putin, Myanmar, Syria , , ,

With respect to the conflict in Russia, the West should have been applying sanctions back when the first Russian elections were gamed. We would be in a better place today. Instead, we offer feudal deference to a bully with no lawful mandate.

No, we don’t need a new system. We need to look after the one we have.

You can find more on these topics at GCHRD.org
Please feel free to submit your questions there.

David Leppik December 14, 2022 11:21 PM

A major challenge for democracy has always been to separate whim from wisdom.

Even if you solve all the issues around trust and trustworthiness—that is, people are working together in good faith—you still need to provide everyone access in a way that encourages thoughtfulness.

Fortunately this is a lesson that our society is learning, albeit the hard way, due to social media which encourage the most impulsive behavior.

ResearcherZero December 14, 2022 11:45 PM

At the end of the day getting the elected representatives to not ignore the advice they are provided with, is probably the most difficult challenge.

An audiologist perhaps?

Sumadelet December 15, 2022 2:32 AM

Thank you for the access to the output of such a fertile workshop. There’s a lot of reading and subjects for further cogitation there.

After a very quick skim, I’m struck with the thought that there is a lot of descriptions of symptoms, a little diagnosis, and very little verified cure in the mix. It reminds me a lot about cancer: it turns out that what looks like ‘a’ disease can almost be unique to each individual and needs specific curative actions – so there is not one cure or ‘magic bullet’ that can act as a remedy for the failures we see around us. A lot of work needs to be done in many different areas in order to bring about a general improvement.

It means that we don’t need a superhero to solve the ‘problem’: rather a lot of people working to improve the things they are good at, so it is OK to specialise.

Thank you again.

Sneaky Pete December 15, 2022 3:36 AM

“ Indeed, the very idea of representative government is due to technological limitations. If an AI system could find the optimal solution for balancing every voter’s preferences, would it still make sense to have representatives­—or should we vote for ideas and goals instead?”

Where would these ideas and goals we can vote for come from- from ?

Winter December 15, 2022 3:40 AM

Quite long text all, and bogged down in the weeds of details. To my taste, it also focuses too much on the selection of the Government.

I would like to suggest some ideas formulated by Karl Popper, ‘In Search of a Better World’:

“The question is not ‘Who should rule’ or ‘Who is to have the power?’ but ‘How much power should be granted to the government?’ or perhaps more precisely ‘How can we develop our political institutions in such a manner that even incompetent and dishonest rulers cannot do too much harm?’ In other words, the fundamental problem of political theory is the problem of checks and balances, of institutions by which political power, its arbitrariness and its abuse can be controlled and tamed.”

tl;dr:

A democracy is any system where the governed can peacefully remove those governing them whenever they want to.

And any democracy can be evaluated with a very simple yardstick:

How easy can the people get rid of the ruler if they wish to do so?

Details are still important. For instance, it is crucial that people can freely express their wish for the government to be removed and argue about it.

Leon Theremin December 15, 2022 4:34 AM

Until people like Cory Doctorow and Bruce Schneier recognize that the criminals behind Havana Syndrome will use their electromagnetic weaponry to surveil and sabotage any and all democratic plans, democracy will never be had in earnest.

Ron December 15, 2022 5:38 AM

This all sounds like “How can we build a stronger Fascism” to me.

The problem with current governance systems is not that they are improperly formed, but that they govern too much. They meddle in affairs that they have no business in, like education, health care, and the economy.

When government is “in charge” of something that incentivises everyone that is concerned about that thing to try to gain control of that government. This is why our world is so divided these days.

If you want to get to the heart of the problem, you need to disincentivise partisanship. And the only way to do that is by freeing people of government control.

So the answer is not to rebuild democratic institutions using technology, but to use technology to replace the need/desire for government.

Winter December 15, 2022 5:39 AM

@Leon Theremin

the criminals behind Havana Syndrome will use their electromagnetic weaponry to surveil and sabotage any and all democratic plans, democracy will never be had in earnest.

That is not a problem of Democracy in the 21st century, but a problem om corruption in USA politics, which again is a consequence of “Power Corrupts, …”.

This is not about the details of the voting process, but about the distribution of power and Checks and Balances.

Winter December 15, 2022 5:49 AM

@Ron [1]

[Governments] meddle in affairs that they have no business in, like education, health care, and the economy.

Governments do so because:
*1 People ask for it in no uncertain terms
*2 Every country that has fully or even partially private education, health, and economy is at the bottom of every metric, from freedom to happiness to life expectancy

[1] Are you channeling Ron Paul?. Or is this ChatGPT answering Ron Paul style?

Clive Robinson December 15, 2022 8:22 AM

@ Bruce,

Rather than ask what is wrong with representational democracy, perhaps you should ask the question

“why do we have it?”

Because it almost always forms hierarchical structures that acrue,

“Status, Power, Money, Control”

To the very very few at the top of such hierarchies, supported by layers of either wana-be’s or “crumb-catcher’s” who in turn have lower layers of “authoritarian followers”. From whom the “Guard labour” that protects the higher levels of the hierachy are protected by and “control” is enforced downwards and outwards by mainly “terroristic” behaviours.

So the question arises,

“Why do human’s accept this?”

Well there are a list of reasons the top of which are,

1, Don’t care.
2, Don’t want responsability.
3, Don’t want to do the work.

Therefore, by and large they pass it on to anyone who will do the work.

Those that do want to do the work fall mainly into one of two groups,

1, Special interest
2, Dark Tetrad deficiences.

It’s been said that,

“The good can overthrow the bad, but can not plan, whilst the bad can always plan. And to function society needs planners, not overthrowers.”

A little trite perhaps but it has a fairly hard kernel of truth to it.

So as one or two of your guests like Cory Doctrow have pointed out, it’s not that the system is bad, but those who select it don’t care untill it specifically effects them.

One way to get rid of the second group who are there for,

“Status, Power, Money, Control”

Is to stop such powers acruing to them by dint of them being at the head of the hierarchical structures.

There are many ways to do this but the hidden issue is it will give to much representation to the first group who can not or will not plan for society.

Which gives us a Gordian Knot type problem.

Winter December 15, 2022 9:09 AM

@Clive

“why do we have it?”

That should be straightforward.

We need to organize the people in a geographical area, say, the USA. Not doing so leads to bad outcomes, eg, war lord’s taking over. We do not have the time, inclination, or means (education) to get involved in all the decision making and negotiation needed for organizing a country.

So, just as we are not all plumbers, accountants, or lawyers and we get people involved who are to do that job for us. Our representatives are there to do that job for us.

The question how to organize that representation best has no unique answer. It depends on the people and situation. The US shows clearly that there are complications involved wrt accountability, access, and manipulation.

Many problems are caused by the fact that corrupt people [1] tend to vote in corrupt politicians. And corrupt politicians will not stay bought.

[1] If you cheer pork belly funding for your community, you are cheering corruption.

Not really anonymous December 15, 2022 9:29 AM

How do you build in enough stability so that the government can make agreements with outside organizations? If the governments policies can change on a whim of the people, outside organizations are not so likely to want to make long term deals with it and that is probably not going to be desirable over all.

echo December 15, 2022 9:40 AM

As much as I value expertise and discussion this seems like a formalised elitist dinner party to me. There’s some interesting stuff in there but nothing really new. Differing starting points and subjectivity can create a lot of heat as much as light. There’s also a bit of a paradox insofar as “thought leaders” when you strip the varnish off can in actual fact be slow followers.

See also “Wabi-Sabi” (The beauty in imperfections) and “Kintsugi” (embracing imperfection).

Now if only I listened to my own advice!

https://pod.link/1643726015/episode/9b308f6f92c09082dbda9a5845404b41

Power Lines: From Ukraine to the World

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has changed the world. The war’s significance in the 21st century is unparalleled: its reverberations can be felt not just in Kyiv and Moscow, but from Beijing to Washington DC. So how did this country on the Eastern edge of Europe come to play such a significant role in geopolitical events? Why is its future so pivotal to Europe’s stability? And, crucially, how have the conflict’s consequences affected the lives of the people who call Ukraine their home? This series will hear top global minds discuss everything from Eastern European history to modern global food security, as led by Kyiv Independent hosts, Jakub Parusinski and Anastasiia Lapatina. Combining on-the-ground expertise with a global perspective, Power Lines explores the impact and influence of the war on 21st-century geopolitics, global power structures and the survival and self-determination of the Ukrainian people.

https://pod.link/1643726015/episode/9b308f6f92c09082dbda9a5845404b41

The 20th century saw the development of an international rule-based order dictated by the United States, with countries tacitly abiding by certain rules in order to trade and prosper with guaranteed security. But now that Russia has removed itself from this system through horrific actions that many deem to be state-sponsored terrorism – even genocide – what does this mean for the future of international relations? In this episode, we speak to Bruce Hoffman, a tenured professor at at Georgetown University in Washington DC, and visiting professor at St Andrews University in Scotland, whose work on terrorism includes the books Holy Terror and Inside Terrorism. Bruce analyses whether terrorism is the most cogent term for Russia’s actions in Ukraine, and what Russia’s new pariah status means for the rest of the globe.

Interesting!

Paul Lock December 15, 2022 10:05 AM

I’m embarrassed at the number of comments that lean so heavily on axiomatic statements that sound appropriate.

Bruce, there is so much work to do.

Security Sam December 15, 2022 10:10 AM

The democrats will save our democracy
The republicans will save our republic
And when all the dust will settle down
The damages will be paid by the public.

Denton Scratch December 15, 2022 10:14 AM

@Ron

This all sounds like “How can we build a stronger Fascism” to me.

To me, too.

The problem with current governance systems is not that they are improperly formed, but that they govern too much.

I can go with that.

They meddle in affairs that they have no business in, like education, health care, and the economy.

Now we appear to differ; if governments have no business managing education, health-care and the economy, what are they supposed to be for? Your position seems to be strictly anti-government.

So the answer is not to rebuild democratic institutions using technology, but to use technology to replace the need/desire for government.

That sounds exactly like “using technology to build a stronger fascism”.

Call me old-fashioned, but there are issues that are strictly political, that is, issues that concern differences of opinion about what should be done. The differences might be between groups of people (working class, bourgeoisie) or between powerful individuals (Putin, generals, siloviki). What happens in practice, everywhere, is that power-games determine the outcome – elections, or coups, or bribery, or paramilitary oppression. It doesn’t matter what the system is nominally.

I think I’d like to live in a participatory democracy, i.e. one in which eligible individuals can participate in any decision they choose. Technology could enable that. I certainly don’t fancy a system in which some opaque AI that can’t explain its reasoning just says “this is what you would have decided.”

I’m afraid that the word “eligible” is doing a lot of work there. I’ve long thought that voters should have to demonstrate that they’ve been paying attention to election campaigns and platforms, if they’re to be considered eligible to vote. Perhaps a disinterest in reading (Trump?) should disqualify you. Being a child shouldn’t disqualify you; being unable to understand the issues should (and that bar should be set quite low).

K.S. December 15, 2022 11:03 AM

As repeatedly demonstrated by social media, direct participation by masses in any issue results in a disproportionately punishing, hostile to minority rights, groupthink prone responses. I don’t see how one could discuss any other considerations until these elephants are addressed. I don’t think digital mob rule is going to improve governance in Western Democracies.

mark December 15, 2022 1:16 PM

Two points: first, I will always assume an AI is biased, based on training. How will it find an “optimal result”?

Second… many years ago, a co-worker/friend was a Libertarian. One day I asked him, “so, how do we get from where we are now to this wonderful future of yours – do we take everything from everyone and divvy it up, like the beginning of Monopoly (the game), or do we just start from where we are, with Bill the Gates with billyons and billyons, and you and me with nothing?”

He stopped, then replied, “Well, we’re still discussing that down at the club” (this was before Libertarians started running for office).

Same question: how do we get from here to this future world?

Winter December 15, 2022 1:17 PM

@Bownse

Because nothing addresses individual Rights like mob (50.1%) rule.

Which shows that reimagining democracy starts with educating what democracy actually is. I know no democracies were 50.1% of the people have absolute rights. The USA is the least likely to have that.

Also, individual rights an freedom only exist in the context of the rule of law. Without the rule of law, there is only might is right.

These are simple truths most people want to ignore. Especially when they convince themselves they are on the mighty side, which they invariably are not.

Winter December 15, 2022 1:20 PM

@mark

Same question: how do we get from here to this future world?

Like we got from monarchy and dictatorship to democracy, by imagining a better world and convince others to join and build one.

Petre Peter December 15, 2022 1:26 PM

Thank for trying to bring technologists and policy makers at the same table. It’s a remarkable effort and you have my support.

IMHO the only way to judge a system of government is by seeing how it takes care of the sick and the poor.

I believe that our democracy is becoming unbalanced. As a remedy, I propose three types of practices:

-physical practice
-mental practice
-verbal practice

Denton Scratch December 15, 2022 2:20 PM

@mark

Same question: how do we get from here to this future world?

Yes, that’s pivotal. I’m ideologically a (socialist) anarchist; that’s vague enough on it’s own. But I’ve never been convinced at all, by any of the proposed paths for getting from here to there.

So that makes me a dreamer. I think a society should accomodate dreamers. And rebels. And layabouts. And eccentrics.

Winter December 15, 2022 2:22 PM

@lurker

Socrates’ opinion on the source of oligarchy was shared by Confucius.

Confucianism today has precious little in common with the teachings of the master. Which is true of every religion. And we know about Socrates’ opinions almost exclusively from one pupil, Plato. And Plato was by way of relatives, pupils of Socrates too, involved in a tyrannical rule that collaborated with the Spartans after they conquered Athens [1].

Anyhow, to say that Chinese politics is in any meaningful sense “stable” over historical time is stretching the meaning of that word. Over its recorded history, China was stable as the Roman Empire was stable, and post medieval Europe. The same structures reappeared after every war, civil war or catastrophe.

What kept the same over all these times was the structure of agriculture, which required extensive irrigation and water works in China. As the common people were unable to organize and manage the large irrigation works, they required a larger political organization to do that for them. That was the stable factor over Chinese history.

[1] The collaboration of Socrates’ pupils with Sparta and their tyrannical rule seems to be the real reason of Socrates’ death sentence. Something Plato might not have written down as his uncles were a big part of that rule.

Clive Robinson December 15, 2022 2:56 PM

@ Winter,

Re : Representational Democracy.

“We need to organize the people in a geographical area, say, the USA. Not doing so leads to bad outcomes, eg, war lord’s taking over.”

Organize or limit?

Within reason I’ve no particular problem with what prople in general do. That is as long as it respects other individuals and it respects society then most problems we’ve seen won’t arise.

However there are occassions we have to say for good and propper reasons “NO”.

Thus the question “What are good and propper reasons?”

But that is nor the issue that concerns me… It is why “Status, Power, money and control” go to those at the top of a hierarchy thus,

1, Encoraging undesirable people.
2, Reinforcing hierarchical control.

The two things of note about “representational democracy” is it can not be described in any real terms as “democratic” it’s not, and nore can it be described as “representational” of the people.

Winston Churchill has been considered a great parliamentarian by some, but even he decried “representational democracy” by claiming it was bad but the best we had at the time. A lifetime later we certainly have the tools to build better…but, can we? Will we?

Especially as in reality the representatives carry no liability for their actions thus have no responsability to those who voted for them. As is said of turkeys, they are not going to vote for Xmass.

I could go on at length about alternate political systems but I won’t because people “have to learn to walk” for them selves.

On speaking to quite a number of people the fact they nolonger vote boils down to,

1, They are not given real choice.
2. They feel their vote doesn’t matter.
3, They feel that they are quite deliberately ignored.

To be honest I can see why, the system is quite seriously rigged when you stand back and analyse it.

Without doubt we need a new system but the question is what can replace the current system?

Winter December 15, 2022 3:16 PM

@Clive

Within reason I’ve no particular problem with what prople in general do. That is as long as it respects other individuals and it respects society then most problems we’ve seen won’t arise.

Without a modern industrial society, there can live only some 5 million people in Great Britain. That is about 10% of the current population. And that even presupposes some agrarian society, aka feudalism.

If you want less order, or organization, you can feed less people. Over history, a breakdown of societal order was followed by a reduction of population. The reason governing structures are generally quicly restored is that the alternative is pretty bad. You only have to look to places where the old structures collapsed and new ones did not appear to see how bad, eg, Somalia, or interbellum China.

All this “we need no government” is pretty Utopian, but with the dystopia ready when it actually happens.

JonKnowsNothing December 15, 2022 3:29 PM

@ Petre Peter

re: IMHO the only way to judge a system of government is by seeing how it takes care of the sick and the poor.

In the USA, a large number of religious institutions along with the bleed over into secular life, have a firm BELIEF that their Deity imposes poverty, sickness, want, deprivation, and hunger on the SINFUL. In short: It is the Deity’s will.

This same group has the corollary BELIEF that their Deity rewards wealth, power, status, governance, and The Good Life, to those who follow the Deity’s instructions. In theory, the closer you follow the instructions, as interpreted by some person or group, the greater the reward for being PIUS. It is the Deity’s will.

Changing a BELIEF is in the same category as changing a BEHAVIOR. It can happen but it requires the person to WANT to change. Why would anyone WANT to change when the carrot is just a little bit farther and almost in reach. The carrot extends from This World to the Next. Also known as Pie In The Sky.

So government’s, with neocon-libertarian-illiberal economies, are doing the Deity’s work. Keeping the Poor poorer so that the Pius will earn all the rewards on Earth as it is in Heaven.

It’s all WAI for the Pius, and the Poor are Spoilt for Choice.

Clive Robinson December 15, 2022 4:14 PM

@ Winter,

“All this “we need no government” is pretty Utopian, but with the dystopia ready when it actually happens.”

I’m by no means arguing for “no government”.

The question is,

“Which form of Government, best serves the people via society for collective action?”

It’s clear that our current hierarchical systems of the so called “represebtational democracy” do not work for either the individual voter or the majority of voters. Especially when it’s easy to see that the proponants, who most benefit have fixed a “two party” system and only alow candidates they approve of.

So how do we get some of the advantages we are currently denied as voting citizens, whilst not getting all the downsides of hierarchical systems where responsability is at best paid lip-service.

JonKnowsNothing December 15, 2022 4:54 PM

@Fredric Rice

re: Isn’t Kaspersky a Russian military corporation and as such should not be trusted?

Hmmm …

  • Isn’t the NSA a USA military operation and as such should not be trusted?
  • Isn’t the GCHQ a UK military operation and as such should not be trusted?
  • (see long list of 3Ls and their associated business fronts)

I suppose even if they are lying 99% of the time, there is still 1% of the time they are not.

Clive Robinson December 15, 2022 6:20 PM

@ Fredric Rice,

“Isn’t Kaspersky a Russian military corporation “

What it might be now is unknown, but ot certainly did not start out as a “military corporation”

As for,

“and as such should not be trusted?”

Actually as far as “published works” are concerned you can reasonably trust them[1]. Because even if it was a “military corporation” what it publishes will be checked by independent others, the same as for any security focused organisation. So any mistakes or worse will get found and highlighted fairly quickly.

The stories about Kaspersky being the “Devils Spawn” originated in the US, via US Politico’s and insiders put up to it back in 2015… Because Kaspersky did what no US and several other nations AV companies did, which was to “out” both Russian and US IC malware. Specifically a US based computer uploaded a number of files in which NSA malware was found. Why was NSA malware on US computers in use in the USA? It begs all sorts of questions about non functioning “oversite” etc. Now you could argue that Kaspersky did it deliberately, but the thing is the evidence was sitting in public repositories open to most AV researchers for the asking (Kaspersky has always been open like this). So it could have be easily found / verified by others.

Embarrisingly for the US, if you look back it was Kaspersky who outed “an NSA person” having things on their computer that breached the Espionage Act at the very least, which came about via Israeli entities hacking Kaspersky AV reporting systems that caused the most noise… It turns out the rouge NSA person had turned off Kaspersky AV, to do the unlawful activities they were doing… Then turned it back on again without first “cleaning up” so the Kaspersky software did what it was configured by the user to do, and reported the malware it found back to Kaspersky’s upload site that most AV vendors have.

The thing is every National IC / SigInt agency sits in the Internet and watches the traffic that gets uploaded to these AV sites, it’s “risk free intel” for then… So the NSA in the US are doing exactly what US Politician’s accuse Kaspersky of… The difference,

“There is no doubt that the US IC are doing it”.

The same we know is true for Australia, Austria, Canada, China, France, Germany, Great Britain, Holland, Israel, Italy, Japan, New Zeland, Singapore, Spain, Sweden to name but a few of very many more.

Are the AV vendors complicit? We don’t know, but then they don’t need to be. Go and have a look at the embarrassing revelations about CarrierIQ and the US mobile phone industry.

Anyway, don’t take my word for it, go look it up.

To start with try,

https://www.tomsguide.com/us/is-kaspersky-safe,news-25983.html

Read it all first, I know it’s a bit messy, but that’s because it goes back about a decade and keeps getting updated. But not only will it give you more of the story than MSM articles, it will give you links and other things to search for so you can fill out other bits of the story. Oh be cynical about US MSM reporting much of it is “fed” via “unnamrd US Gov Insiders” or if you prefere those on the US IC pay&benifits lists.

[1] Probably you can trust them “more so” than Israeli entities that we know have strong Israeli military and espionage entity links. Then there are all those US Tech Corps and Communications companies, all of whom have been found to be tucked up in bed with the US IC in more ways than one. Then our host @Bruce used to be employed by the UK British Telecom(BT) company. Known to have “secret squirrels” running around like rats in a sewer… Did he “know” probably not, did he suspect? That’s a different question. BT technical personnel also did nice little square dances on standards committees to ensure that both the UK IC and LEO had ample spying built into all your consumer and comercial grade communications and ICTsec kit. As I’ve mentioned before the usuall trick was to argue “Health and Safety” by some prepared “Mrs Jones and her twin baby girls have had an accidet XXX…” scenario and paint a picture of how calous, uncaring, etc, etc to argue differently… As they say “Been there, Done that, Got the T-Shirt” oh dozens of times. I’ve even had Spooks pretending to be “Flat Foots” pay “visits” to my home in the past anoyed that I’d found their toys and would not give them back and they daftly made threats about me being arrested for theft (of equipment they had broken into my home to unlawfull install to commit theft of electricity…).

lurker December 15, 2022 6:24 PM

@Winter

The “stability” of Chinese eras lasted on average 10 human generations. Any longer might appear to be stagnation. The interregnums were usually violent and disruptive, but also usually short, less than ~1 generation. About half the regime changes came from internal or external causes.

Regardless of our fragmentary knowledge of either Socrates or Confucius, we must observe that the Hellenistic period was roughly coincident with the “Hundred Schools” period. Unfortunately there is no record of any exchange of ideas between the two.

vas pup December 15, 2022 7:26 PM

@all
“If Men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and the next place, oblige it to control itself.”

  • James Madison

All still mixed democracy with constitutional republic. They are absolutely different things. Democracy is political regime. It could be in republic (Switzerland- that is model), constitutional monarchy (Norway). Republic could be very authoritarian meaning voting for representatives is not the feature of democracy. I want to remind all of You that Hitler’s NSDAP was elected as major and ruling party.

Direct democracy like in Ancient Greece could be replicated by utilizing by technology which is robust and secure. As you can see, direct democracy could be only smart move when electorate is not brainwashed before the election by mass media: fake news, propaganda, hiding truth. etc.

So in democracy rights of minorities should be respected but aggressive minority should not impose their views on silent majority.

The best way is ruling by meritocracy which is recruited by democratic principle based on objectively measurable merits.
I don’t see any other viable solution for now.

Last but not least legal system is absolutely not acceptable: grand jury obsolete and should be abandoned asap; Sentencing Guidelines required to be changed – no more 120 years prison sentence – no such thing anywhere in the world; prison system should be fixed from bottom to top; jury trial should be replaced by three judges panel …

Clive Robinson December 15, 2022 7:42 PM

@ lurker, Winter,

“Unfortunately there is no record of any exchange of ideas between the two.”

Whilst that is true enough, there is sufficient evidence to suggest they should have been aware of each other.

Certain plant/food and other “trade goods” from parts of China had made it not just as far as the Mediterranean area around the time of Socrates (470-399BC) but also out round and up past the bottom of what we would now call Portugal.

Most of what we refere to as “the silk road” was established trade routes that got amalgamated well before silk got traded that far. In the other direction flint evidence from England is especially surprising as is Welsh Gold and Cornish copper as finished goods were traded along the various parts of the route.

We actually have hard evidence of China directly trading with Rome before 200BC which is only a couple of centuries after Socrates at most.

What we forget though, is that as Rome fell and with Arabic expansion the silk routes were nolonger safe to transverse so fell out of use untill revived by the Mongals. And it was after this that “Noodles became Spaghetti”.

As for “ketchup” some say by land others say by sea, either way, anywhere both onions and tomatoes grow, now has it’s own version of “Ketchup” but tomatoes were not used untill the 1800’s. The original sauce made atleast a couple of thousand years before that, like so many other usefull sauces was made with rotting fish guts and salt. Both of which are “flavour multipliers” so anchovy paste and Worcestershire sauce are nearer to the Roman and earlier Chinese sauce.

One variety made with oysters and mushrooms is superb whan added to beef in pies and stews just a few drops lifts the flavour immensely. From acceptable to heavenly. You can also add just a few drops to thickened pasta water and use it as a sauce for spaghetti.

How you make “fish entrail sauce” is not something for the squeamish or faint-hearted. However a side benifit was a way more valuable commodity “fish oil” for use in lamps… I’ve made fish oil the traditional way and trust me whilst it does burn reasonably cleanly and bright in lamps unlike other oils, it’s not the sort of odor you want “hanging around”.

lurker December 15, 2022 8:26 PM

@vas pup
Meritocracy must be provided with strong defences against the nepotism/cronyism that we have now in most Westminster systems.

@Clive
The odd thing is that we have plenty of evidence of East-West trade, but no evidence of philosophic/religious/government dialogue. Yet shortly after this news reached the Chinese court about Buddhism, and an envoy was sent to investigate the dogma and retrieve scriptures.

Winter December 16, 2022 1:27 AM

Re: History of Ketchup

‘https://www.cracked.com/article_35429_the-long-and-not-always-tomatoy-history-of-ketchup.html

Phillip December 16, 2022 1:30 AM

My initial reaction is positivist. Why? Ordinarily, all of us are getting far too much echo chamber (and of course, owing not only recent tech).

There is much to chew on here. I hope to share more, observationally.

Thank you.

Winter December 16, 2022 1:33 AM

@lurker

Unfortunately there is no record of any exchange of ideas between the two.

No record, but the same ideas cropped up around the same time. The Buddha, Confucius, and Socrates all lived around the same time.

The ideas underlying the major philosophical revolutions in Eurasia all originated in the 6th-5th century, but in opposite parts of the continent(s).

That is a lot of coincidence.

Winter December 16, 2022 1:41 AM

@Clvie

Especially when it’s easy to see that the proponants, who most benefit have fixed a “two party” system and only alow candidates they approve of.

That is particularly an Anglo-Saxon quirk. Much of the rest of the democratic world has coalition governments.
‘https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_with_coalition_governments

My country didn’t have a single party government since WWII (I don’t think it ever had, but I simply do not know).

Jim Reardon December 16, 2022 10:59 AM

This reminds me of the lengthy “rap sessions” that characterized my college experience — in the 1970s. Stimulating for those involved, but inconsequential.

The democracies that exist in various places are each an accidental success. When created, persistent democracies emerged from mistrust and competition among the participants. In history books, these participants may be referred to as “Founders” and in possession of great wisdom. But with few exceptions, they acted out of self-interest and compromise was their last resort.

A democracy so conceived will persist until new conditions force change. However, the mechanism of change will remain self-interest, never a consensus.

In places where “engineering” democracy has been tried, the results have been unstable. Post WWII Europe, Africa, and post-Soviet Russia are great examples. Modern day, consider the failure of Paul Bremmer and the CPA in Iraq. Consider Secretary Clinton’s failures at nation-building in Africa and Asia.

It is okay to imagine how new conditions might change democracy for the better, but self-interest will resist change. When that resistance fails, the result is generally not democratic.

lurker December 16, 2022 12:31 PM

@Jim Reardon

Bremmer, Clinton, and others of the same ilk, tried to impose an American style democracy on an alien people. If we accept that demos as the root of democracy means people, then to organise or govern those people we must take account of their cultural background. History shows the Peace Corps was not an answer.

Quantry December 16, 2022 12:43 PM

My prescription? The Repressed Centers of Power Protocol.

The idea that Anarchy and Totalitarianism are the two extremes for governance seems to forget that, anytime in history where thugs are armed more heavily than the mean, the result IS totalitarian anarchy, in every meaningful way.

It IS frankly time to step back, entirely outside that endless circle of oppression, where every man’s conscience is judged ONLY by his MAKER, to a place where Centers of Power are repressed by each individual as a matter of revocable choice and protocol.

How to get there? It evidently has to be global civil war. Are we not accountable for producing this mess?

“But, this will naturally reverse the state of industrialization, life expectancy, and the size of the population as a whole”

Uniting under hard times IS the elixir that always enriches humanity.

example:
 

… the community assembled as one body … four hundred thousand armed foot soldiers… there was no king … everyone did whatever seemed right to him.

Judges 19-21

name.withheld.for.obvious.reasons December 16, 2022 2:02 PM

Finally Bruce,

As most argue the value of technological systems in support of “superior” or “preferred” outcomes, not opportunities (as few people have access or the wherewithal to employ the complex systems that are typically pointed at something or someone), the tired mantra that technology isn’t the problem but its application and use fails to make the distinction between sublime bias and overt advantage. If I am a ship builder, and a friend is a sailor (with resources), the sailing vessel I envisioned is readily turned into a Man-o-War by my sailor friend (a decision I detest). Knowing my sailor friend, do I continue to build ships thinking that surely it is just my sailor buddy for whom war is a hobby? Or, am I being naive in thinking others will embrace better angels (speaking metaphorically)? I understand it to be the latter, not the former.

We, as humans, don’t understand our own moral or ethical compass (some BELIEVE they have a MORAL GPS) to any degree that resembles something that would demonstrate continuous harm reduction. We are yet still too primitive in our beliefs and understanding of the world we habit, and at best are tossing darts into the darkness and claiming we landed on the center of the board–100 points for me!

I go back to the times I would tell my daughter, “Don’t make me weaponize this toaster!” not as a veiled threat but as an object lesson in how society and people bring inherent post-historic bias into the room whenever and wherever they are. It is nearly impossible to separate the quasi-communal concepts of shared human existence and what is “built-in” and not examine to any detail or understand what it all means. We are still scratching the surface of our own presence, in own time, in our own existence on this speck of dirt. I am certain if I were from another part of the universe, visiting this galaxy, I would not be impressed–I would be horrified.

Okay, now that I vented, this subject to me has been paramount. We are living through large scale system failure, we cannot reboot or bug-fix this experience on the planet called earth, in our solar system located in the Milky Way Galaxy among the local group, Andromeda. For centuries humans have toiled, fought, and died in service to ideas that essentially operate outside their own frames of reference. Dr. Martin Luther King said something so profound, a philosophical statement based on his ability to see the future anew. Dr. King had the presence of mind to understand where he was in the universe and knew his ability to SEE and TOUCH a world not built from conflict and a time of peace could be imagined, but he unlikely would not be there to visit. He was not swayed by pessimism or distraught by the collapse of the human mind, it was his duty to speak of it and lend us his time.

It was during the pandemic when the failure of large scale institutions to adequately address the cause, nature, effects, and psychic shock to many at this time. Everything from JIT supply chain, sources of materials whether raw or finished, to the virological knowledge and evidence of the day which was hauled around on various institutional shoulders like a moist gym towel just begging to be put in the hamper. Dynamic, human-driven, social organizing and cohesion needed to overcome the challenge, never materialized. In a sense, no answer or straight white-noise, was the cure all–and it stuck. If we can agree that the rational mind was sacrificed at the alter of many gods (gods of polity, hubris, id or ego, and lady denialism) by many “preachers” there might be a basis to form a space/place suitable for interrogating (I use the word for now, but don’t like it) the place we have found ourselves and how to move to someplace other than where regressive tribalism (everybody’s favorite old-school standby) delivers us.

“Just give me my security blanket and I will be on my way.”

Linus, somewhere in toon town.

Winter December 16, 2022 2:45 PM

@Denton

In places where “engineering” democracy has been tried, the results have been unstable.

Exceptions are Germany and Japan.

Winter December 16, 2022 2:51 PM

@Quantry

anytime in history where thugs are armed more heavily than the mean, the result IS totalitarian anarchy, in every meaningful way.

In history, without a government, any government, people will band together and fight for power. Aka, civil war and warlords.

In mist cases, civil war ends with a tyrant.

lurker December 16, 2022 5:00 PM

@Winter

Germany and Japan both sought territorial expansion for their “engineered democracies”, and thus were prevented by external forces from existing long enough to prove their stability.

Denton Scratch December 17, 2022 5:04 AM

@lurker

I think @winter was referring to the German and Japanese democracies that were “engineered” after WWII. I accept that those are exceptions to my rule that engineered democracies tend to be unstable. But both countries had been throughly militarily and economically defeated, and both were under foreign military occupation.

Any “rule” about the real world encounters exceptions, and those were clearly exceptional circumstances.

Clive Robinson December 17, 2022 6:03 AM

@ Denton Scratch, lurker, Winter,

Re : Before and after.

“I think @winter was referring to the German and Japanese democracies that were “engineered” after WWII.”

However before WWII…

Both before and after for not just Germany and Japan but Itally, show marked contrast. Spain also but whilst it did not participate in WWII as such, it also changed after though it took longer.

Then there are Russia and China before during and after the WWII time make interesting studying as well.

Even US behaviour post VE day and pre-Marshall plan makes shocking reading (and the much more calamitous behaviours that followed and are still happening because of that even smaller window in time, not just the “Cold War” and “Middle East”).

I can not help but wonder what, if he had not died an untimely death, George Orwell would have made of it all.

Jon December 17, 2022 7:22 AM

As @JonKnowsNothing already pointed out, there’s an 800lb gorilla in the room, and as they say, it’ll sit wherever it wants to sit.

That is Religion.

You will never have anything vaguely resembling fair and decent government as long as there’s some God or Holy Book involved. The USA is better than some (cough, Saudi Arabia) but is still very very badly twisted by people whose faith in religion is more than (and seen as superior to) their faith in (secular) government.

Despite the minor detail that their government actually provides things, while their God might be fun to pray at, He (they’re (almost) all male gods (these days)) does nothing for them, while their government does.

The first step to improving government of people by people is to disregard the hearsay instructions of what someone said someone said that God told them that one time.

Thank you, J.

Clive Robinson December 17, 2022 8:48 AM

@

“That is Religion.”

Actually no, it’s not religion as such, but god-heads who use deities as an arms-length method of avoiding responsability whilst having power and control via hierarchical cults designed for political control of the masses.

In effect the predecessor of the more modern cults and “pyramid selling schemes”.

There are two types of deities, the old “spirit gods” designed to capture the essence or spirit of something that is. This is what many artists try to do with their art and acient hunters and gatherers did to teach the arts of survival, and living more than a mear existance to the next generation. The result was generally social stability and appretiation of the environment they lived within.

Modern deities are the opposit of what we get told and dreamed up by those who suffer incurable mental abnormalities of narcissism, sadism, psycopathy, sociopathy / Machiavellism. That is,

“Gods are made by deficient men in normal mans likeness”

And can easily be demonstrated as such.

The reason this happened is “The King Game” where an individual by often violent or crapicious means get’s control of a society. To maintain this control they “stole the gods” for their own ends.

They would claim to be gods in their own right. Which could be made to work with the assistance of guard labour. Unfortunately such claims got disproved by any significant natural event, and at that point the subjects generally got rid of the king. So the trick was to claim to be not a god but the conduit from a god to mankind as a god-head. Thus they were the “chosen messanger” not the originator of the message, so they were not to blaim when things went wrong. However such natural events became a good excuse to blaim the victims in some way, thus getting tighter control over them.

As realms expanded control turned into what we call religion but was in fact a “Pyrimid Selling Scheme” of “power” and this scheme with time became early politics.

Three of the least desirable characteristics of mankind in general these days are,

1, Lazyness
2, Greed
3, Avoiding responsability

It’s not difficult to see how these can be exploited to form hierarchies of “profit” where, “Status, Money, Power, and Control” accumulate at the top.

I could go on but that should be sufficient to understand my argument. And why “Christianity” and similar are the cults of those who are self-entitled and see “Status, Money, Power, and Control” as theirs by right.

Leon Theremin December 17, 2022 9:14 AM

@Jon

The religion problem is also the electromagnetic surveillance and sabotage (Havana Syndrome) problem.

No democracy will be safe while cases like these are allowed to happen:

Woman forces emergency landing after biting passenger and claiming Jesus told her to open plane door mid-flight

https://ca.news.yahoo.com/woman-bites-passenger-thigh-tries-103159117.html

She is victim of electromagnetic weaponry used by terrorists for covert crime (same ones responsible for Havana Syndrome).

Religious figures don’t talk to people “telepathically” to make them kill others, criminals posing as them do.

By using these same weapons and methods, they have managed to coerce people working in semiconductor industries into inserting backdoors into all our CPUs – albeit they would rather not be known that this is the case and prefer resorting to making people do what that woman did so killings look like human error instead of malicious sabotage.

“Aliens” is just one of the false narratives propped up so people keep looking up to the skies while weaponry buried on Earth’s core (maybe by a previous civilization, “Silurian hypothesis”) is used for total electromagnetic surveillance of this planet and sabotage of our science – like in the Three Body Trilogy.

Clive Robinson December 17, 2022 9:20 AM

@ ALL,

Over the past few years I’ve mentioned how low cost electronics and more recently “drones” are changing RF communications, for very small groups and what advantages that gives them in “asymetric scenarios” not just “asymetric warfare”.

Well it appears that whilst I built my systems around more specialist equipment like “Software Defined Radio”(SDR) “dongles” and “Gumstick” “Single Board Computers”(SBCs) for their small, light-weight and low-power consumption, others have gone different routes…

One guy has decided to use “Buy off of Alibaba” and similar items and make 3D-printed parts and is now putting his experiments up on YouTube as a series. The first part is up and shows using a pair of Baofeng walkie-talkies and a DJI mini drone to make VHF-UHF “cross band” Repeater,

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=qCVE7Tg5qVY

To say I’m astonished he get’s it off the ground let alone fly for as long as he eventually does was a real surprise. Oh and makes me wonder why I went to the lengths I did to reduce weight and power…

Winter December 17, 2022 11:22 AM

@Leon Theremin

Religious figures don’t talk to people “telepathically” to make them kill others, criminals posing as them do.

Sounds like schizophrenia or just psychosis with delusions to me.

Tell me, if Jesus tells you to open the door of a plane mid air, would you do it?

Winter December 17, 2022 12:08 PM

@Jon

That is Religion.

Could you find a country without religions?

My experience is that people use religion as an excuse for things they already wanted to do anyway. And it hardly stops people from bad behaviors.

As far as I know, hardest criminals tend to be very religious, eg, the mob.

Jon December 17, 2022 1:02 PM

@ Clive Robinson

Actually no, it’s not religion as such, but god-heads who use deities as an arms-length method of avoiding responsability whilst having power and control via hierarchical cults designed for political control of the masses.

That EXACTLY IS Religion, as practiced.

@ Leon Theremin

That was not religion, nor electromagnetic energy, nor telepathy. That was simple brain damage.

@ Winter

No. Not yet. But I have hopes that rationality, by sheer weight of acknowledging ‘praying for fuel doesn’t actually work as well as going to the gas station’ and so that rationality will eventually prevail. Could be awhile.

Thank you, J.

Clive Robinson December 17, 2022 1:55 PM

@ Winter, Jon,

“Could you find a country without religions?”

Probably not once it has had contact with the West (remember much alleged exploration was actually what turned out to be a front for “missionary work” which was actually quite evil).

But you can find countries and regions with majority religions free from deities or Western influance. Back nearly half a century ago when I took a serious look at the evils of various religions I found that a lack of deity made a significantly different society.

@ Jon, Winter,

“That EXACTLY IS Religion, as practiced.”

Err no, it’s how Religions arising from the Middle East and South West Asia and got further perverted in Europe tend to behave.

It’s not true of most other religions, especially those that to Western Eyes are not “successful”.

What I have noticed with sadness is that over the past half century, more religions have become politically activr, hierarchical, and status within more glorified, this is a bad indicator of what is to come. To see “status, money, power, and control” take an increasing role due to basic greed and vanity is frankly saddening.

Jon December 17, 2022 3:36 PM

@ Clive Robinson

Would you like to enumerate some of these deity-free religions? Furthermore, it’s not deity-free that’s the point – it’s priesthood-free.

Doesn’t much matter if they don’t have one specific god if they still have a very specific priesthood. God’s irrelevant – it’s how people can get away with saying “He (She/It) says you must obey me”; that is religion as practiced.

Err, yes.

J.

Bryce December 17, 2022 5:09 PM

To my way of thinking any exercise like this has to start with a discussion and agreement on basic terms.

Before the pandemic I organized citizen-led town-hall-style meetings with people invited from pro- and anti-Trump Facebook groups. We had little trouble working together and agreeing some profoundly new ideas on representation because we started from and built on an agreement on basic principles.

Can we agree, for example, on a definition of “Representation”?

Here are the elements of representation to my way of thinking:

  1. I have someone I can contact when there is some public policy (or lack thereof) that I don’t understand or disagree with
  2. All major perspectives on a public policy topic are represented in brainstorming on how to address that topic
  3. Someone should be available to explain to me why the new solution is the best possible solution for me given the other interests that also need to be accommodated to “keep peace”
  4. If I disagree I should be able to contact someone to start the process again (closing the loop)
  5. There should be a system in place to limit abuse of the looping option in #4
  6. The system should not be “hackable” by money

Is there something you’d add, remove or edit from this list?

vas pup December 17, 2022 6:22 PM

@lurker • December 15, 2022 8:26 PM

@vas pup
Meritocracy must be provided with strong defences against the nepotism/cronyism that we have now in most Westminster systems.

I agree. When you have established OBJECTIVE meaning measurable criteria for merits, it may /should address your reasonable concern. If system of selection is based on opinion aka holistic approach then meritocracy will fail.

JonKnowsNothing December 17, 2022 7:41 PM

@vas pup, @lurker, All

re: Meritocracy w established OBJECTIVE meaning measurable criteria for merits

Merit system are segregation systems. Some rise to the top and stay there. The rest are sieved to the bottom (lacking merit) and remain at the bottom.

It does not matter what the measurement criteria is, it can be height, weight, speed of typing, spelling, ability to write cursive 🙂 or any other set of tests, measurements you care to come up with. The ultimate result will be segregation.

Meritocracies are pretty much parallel to Monarchies, the sieve in both is self defined, the former requires some “test to pass”, the later requires “genetics”.

There is a 3 book series “Divergent” (2011,2012,2013) by Veronica Roth that explores a sort of meritocracy. While the ending is less than promising than the beginning, it doesn’t detract too much from the overall theme. It’s not a simple Sorting Hat type problem.

It does depend on what sort of society you really are aiming for. Classic Society Overturns generally replace what was there with a different lot of genetics.

Clive Robinson December 17, 2022 9:02 PM

@ Jon,

“Would you like to enumerate some of these deity-free religions?”

There are plenty of deity-free belief systems around some are global in nature others are not.

The problem is,

“How do you define a religion?”

For instance is the Wicca that can now be found practiced all over the globe a religious movement or new age Western esotericism of a leaderless harmless cult.

How about Gaianism? Or the “flying spaghetti monster” both “new age” but religions?

How about Paganism that predates judaochristian control systems / cults by thousands of years, are they religions?

What about those US “TV Evangalists” that demand money for redemption or salvation, are they religions or confidence tricks / pyramid selling without product?

We can bat this back and forth as much as you want, but “religion” has no legal or other description by which you can build tests to determin what a religion is. In that respect “religion” as a word is like “random” as a word.

Now when you say,

“it’s priesthood-free.”

You are getting close to the real issue of,

“Possessing a controlling hierarchy that exists for gain by use of a faux belief system.”

That is it does not have to be “formal” such as a “priesthood” it can be informal such as “Church Elders” or “Ladies flower group”. The characteristics to look for are a power structure that can be used against all within the organisation and many without, and movment up the hierarchy controlled by those at the top of the hierarchy. That is they function effectively as a WASP “political” hierarchy.

lurker December 17, 2022 9:49 PM

@Clive Robinson

Pastafarian aka. Flying Spaghetti Monster most certainly have a deity, and His image can be found all round the ‘net.

Clive Robinson December 17, 2022 11:12 PM

@ lurker, Jon,

“[Church of the] Flying Spaghetti Monster most certainly have a deity”

Yes, but my question was,

“Is it a religion?”

And further,

“by what rules?”

One rule that they were going to have in English Legislation was effectively,

“Must have a deity”

This caused significant outcry at the “White Paper” time it was droped like the proverbial “lead kipper” (of which there is a church of sorts).

Another rule that was dropped,

“Must have a building of worship”

The upshot is UK MP’s were heard muttering the old saying of,

“It’s like pornography, you know it when you see it”.

JonKnowsNothing December 18, 2022 12:07 AM

@Clive, @lurker, Jon, All

re: Deity, Religion, Ritual, Belief, Dogma, Spirituality etc etc

There is a large body of study about the differences, and it’s harder to sort out the boundaries than Counting the number of Angels dancing on the head of a pin .

Governments that are Theological Oriented, of which there are quite a few, don’t do any better at democracy and sometimes quite a bit worse.

Today, the US Govt restored the Security Clearance to J Robert Oppenheimer, which was stripped in 1954. He died in 1967, so the renewal of his Security Clearance is not that significant in the physical world; perhaps he is Pin Dancing on The Other Side.

Rather like Galileo, breath holding for 400 years. Nice they got around to it.

The US Supreme Court is generally 15-20yrs (or more) behind the curve. We not only have the Constitution but we also have people “swearing on the Bible” for oath of office. They do not have to do that, but for some, their Deity Leanings have a lot to do with their secular views. SCOTUS is having a bad decade of this, and prolly will not shift again for another decade.

So, it creeps in, one way or another. Large numbers of Humans just are not able to deal with 65yo==The End. (If you are not 65+ you will find out when you get there).

So, a significant problem is that Belief is not necessarily part of any Religion. Belief is an Internal State. It maybe couched in the terms of Religion but all sorts of things fall into Belief.

Baseball players have a specific form of belief that is often called OCD, but it’s based on a Belief that certain repetitions bring Luck and Luck brings fame fortune and a win. If you Believe your very existence depends on the number of times you pull up your socks, well, you are going to do a lot of sock adjustments. Logic has nothing to do with it.

So while you are sorting out Deities and Variations on Deities; Beliefs of all types are the underlying factor.

I believe I am contributing to the topic. I believe I am being clear. I believe I can persuade you to agree with me. I believe if you do not agree with me, that there is something “Other” about you. I believe that I should hang out with people who believe as I do. If my belief requires me to deny The Other access to Democracy then that’s what will be my directive.

We can see this working RL in a large number of States in the USA, and a large number of countries around the globe.

Thorny problem to solve. So far, no one has done it in a permanent way.

  • The “best sharpshooters in the Russian Army”
    or
  • Fanny Kaplan

await those who would like to try.

===

Search Term

1st Assassination Attempt 1918
Michael Manege
Neoclassical building
Saint Petersburg, Russia.

2nd Assassination Attempt 1918
Fanny Dora Kaplan

name.withheld.for.obvious.reasons December 18, 2022 1:42 AM

@ All

Religion is the sheep’s skin that psychopathic wolves wear to carry out their carnage. If you query these people, you will quickly discover that any belief system inherent to their existence is in their own malevolent behavior and an internal rationalization to self righteousness. In other words, their own cruelty is an exercise in “kindness”. It can be an egalitarian wolf, or a preacher wolf, a war wolf (or as someone in Georgia recently said, “werewolf”), a political wolf–or a wolf of every strip.

The Internal View from a Bonkers Human:
If I steal something from you, it is your own fault. If you ask for it back, I am obliged to deny it to you. If you attempt to take it back, I am obligated to stop you by any means I deem necessary.

It is surprising how “rugged individualism” and exceptionalism are couched, operating in a similar fashion as the aforementioned Mr/Ms/Pronoun Bonkers. It is also how “belief” systems are leveraged to take advantage of others.

The second to the last sentence is not meant to be read by Dave Chappel…

Phillip December 18, 2022 6:36 PM

Wealth inequality. Graph it as a hockey-stick. Put this into perspective. While any of it might not be a zero-sum game, we are behaving as if it is so democratic, while only making it worse and worse. Obviously, there are plenty of examples of the worthwhile, economically viable, and so on, being way underfunded. Take childcare, for example. Wealth gap does make a fancy difference. Within past few days (NYT does allow a subscriber to share several links within a month):

Can Child Care Be a Big Business? Private Equity Thinks So.

A ginormous wealth gap is serious.

Phillip December 18, 2022 6:57 PM

@JonKnowsNothing, re: posted ‘December 18, 2022’

Interesting you mention J. Robert Oppenheimer and a recent, posthumous, reinstatement of his security clearance. Why? Way back, I did read:

“The Ruin of J. Robert Oppenheimer: and the Birth of the Modern Arms Race”,
by Priscilla McMillan.

My recollection? She was very reasoned with it.

So, thank you for the update.

JonKnowsNothing December 18, 2022 8:04 PM

@Philip, All

re: J. Robert Oppenheimer recent, posthumous, reinstatement of his security clearance. Why [Now]?

That’s a very good question. One might think that Pres Biden hasn’t a clue who he was or the details (not public) about the events.

Like many events of that period, repeated Official Sources were used to shape opinion and there was a particular epithet that was nearly impossible to overcome. There are modern equivalents used to advantage by LEAs everywhere.

Scholar works are also subject to Official Sources, and Hollywood does it’s Public Duty too, particularly if there is financing involved.

Our President Reagan was well known for quoting Movie Scripts as Gospel, particularly if he had had a leading role in the film. Phenomenal Memory but Not Much History.

Now, if they were to address Roy Cohn, and relegate him to the dust bin of history, that would be something. Not likely to happen, since there are too many proteges still active.

So, the timing is curious. Very curious.

Clive Robinson December 19, 2022 4:39 AM

@ JonKnowsNothing,

Re : Recycling and Security.

“Now, if they were to address Roy Cohn, and relegate him to the dust bin of history, that would be something.”

Remember playing with old trash is officially a job…

Called “bin diving” it involves going through peoples dust bins pulling out that which has sensibly been disposed of.

Unfortunately the denands of “recycling” has made people less careful than they once were…

I and probably you as well are old enough to remember having a real fire in the home and having to have “kindling” to get the fire going. One of the most convenient things that did the job was “used paper” for which old thick correspondence was a convenient size and burn unlike newspaper.

It’s always been hard to “read a pile of ashes”, but a pile of stiff correspondence, even when shredded…

modem phonemes December 22, 2022 5:42 PM

There is a utopian character to much of this musing. Utopianism is just totalitarianism by another name.

We should be asking what is the best state of things possible rather than conceivable. And, as Max Scheler said, repentance not utopia is the greatest revolutionary force in the moral world.

Arthur December 23, 2022 3:55 PM

Bruce, do you think this is now true?

“With today’s technology, we can vote anywhere and any time.”

Clive Robinson December 23, 2022 6:25 PM

@ Arthur, ALL,

Re : Voting anywhere and any time

“Bruce, do you think this is now true?”

Of course we can and we currently do, the technology is called the postal service and it’s called “Postal Voting”.

Thus I suspect you have not formulated your question inline with what you were actually thinking about.

If you had instead asked,

“Can this be done securely?”

The answer is almost certainly “NO” currently, the same as it is for any current voting system, including the alledged “Gold Standard” of the “Ballot Paper”.

The problem we do not know how to solve is,

“Security v. Anonymity”

Of the vote and voter respectively.

For all information security to work you have to have a “Root of Trust” that eventually distills down to a,

“Shared Secret”

Which is basically a “bag of bits” or “natural number” integer that is sufficiently large and random it can not be “guessed or found” within a time period using quite large but not infinite computing resources.

The actual problem that causes the issue is the requirment for,

“One voter, One vote.”

To ensure “democracy” is possible (search “The Irish Problem” and “One man, one vote” for a half millennia long persprctive).

To ensure “one voter, one vote” you have to ensure that the voter can not vote twice. This is very similar if not the same as the “double spend” issue in crypto-coins.

As people are becoming aware the double spend prevention via the block-chain makes anonymity of crypto-wallets effectively impossible. Thus a number of criminals including a prenier of an alledged super power are now extreamly vulnerable to their previous transactions and thus in turn their anonymity can be easily stripped away.

I hope that answers your actual question? 😉

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