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Most of my ideas are half-baked. This one is barely warm. But it's fun to think about, so I thought I'd share.

Today's thought experiment is to imagine a form of government with no employees, no elected officials, and no leaders. Imagine there are no government-owned buildings or other physical government assets either. This imaginary government exists only as software running on servers spread across multiple commercial sites, plus a bill of rights based on the American model. I'll add one extra right: The right to affordable high-speed Internet access.

Society would agree on only three rules:


1.       New laws require a 51% majority.

2.       Changes to existing laws require a 67% majority (for stability).

3.       Votes are weighted based on test results.

That last rule means that voters must take an online test on any topic on the ballot before voting for it. A citizen's vote would be reduced in weight according to test scores. So if you scored only 50% on a test about the national budget, your vote on budget topics would be counted as one-half.

Your first reaction to the idea of a software based government is that it would leave too many essential services unattended. You'd have rampant crime, no one picking up trash, no business rules, no environmental standards, no schools, and so on. It would be chaos.

Or would it?

Nothing has ever surprised me more than the success of Wikipedia. Before Wikipedia, how many of us would have guessed that a crowd-maintained online encyclopedia would become a global treasure? Every instinct in my body says Wikipedia should have devolved into uselessness. I would have expected pranksters to spoil Wikipedia with false information, and I would have expected knowledgeable citizens to have better things to do with their time than donate it. I would have been very wrong.

The Wikipedia model makes me think a software-based government isn't 100% crazy. But for this system to work, one particular global trend needs to continue along its current path: Our desire for privacy has to keep shrinking. In the imaginary government-by-software, every citizen would have legal access to anyone else's medical, financial, employment, education or any other data. We're already seeing a rapid and voluntary disintegration of privacy. The only reason privacy exists at all is because it is often better than the alternatives. But once the alternatives to privacy become clearly superior, future generations will make rational choices to release on it. In general, every time we give up a little privacy we gain in other ways. When the benefits are large enough, privacy will seem a quaint relic from the past.

Once the public releases on its demand for privacy, crime will disappear fairly quickly. Private entities will have security cameras with facial recognition on every corner. The Internet will track the location of every automobile and every cell phone. In this future, cash will be banned in favor of electronic transactions, so the world will also know where you are by your purchases. And I wouldn't be surprised if someday we're all wearing location chips.

Ninety-nine percent of crime depends on being undetected long enough to escape. If you eliminate the possibility of being undetected, you eliminate most crime, and you eliminate the need for a police department. Don't worry that the bad guys have guns because everyone else will have one too. The bad guys will always be outgunned fifty-to-one. If someone tries to become a war lord, society can cancel their credit cards and starve them into compliance. With no privacy, no gun laws, and no untraceable cash, a life of crime will be a short one.

Ideally, an information-only government will be so healthy for the economy that potential criminals will simply get legitimate jobs.

Let's also assume that necessary functions such as education, the fire department, garbage removal, and environmental standards are all handled by organized volunteers or private companies. Everything will get done, but society will be free to attack any problem in any way it sees fit. Citizens won't be saddled with an antique government that was designed in pre-Internet times.

Homeland defense would be a big issue for a government made entirely of software. This imaginary government still needs a professional military run by generals. But the military could be subservient to the majority opinion in the country, just as it is now for all practical purposes. Generals could simply read the opinion poll data, add their own good judgment about timing, and act accordingly. There's no need for a civilian government to be in the middle, so long as the top generals can be fired by popular vote.

About halfway into writing this post I realized that the topic is too enormous for a blog. I'll just summarize by saying the existence of the Internet plus the trend toward less privacy might make it possible for citizens to self-organize without the need for a formal government. I don't predict it will happen, but the obstacles will be ones of psychology, fear of the unknown, and lack of imagination.

 

 

 
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Oct 29, 2012
My thoughts.

1. That's too low to pass a new law. Even the US senate needs 60% most of the time. Think of it like this, you know that recent post where you talked about franklin's quote of too many people are dependent on the government it would fail. Well you'd need only 51% of society to fall for that law to get it passed.


2. So it takes a relatively lower number of people to pass stupid law #14742 but more to repeal it. So if society passes an economically suicidal law, it'd take 67% of the people to repeal it. Unfortunately you might have people saying the problem was the law wasn't suicidal enough and the other side just wants to starve poor people again.

3. I'd difficult enough just to ask people to prove they are eligible to vote, testing them means you are a racist against minorities for disenfranchising them with your pro-white tests. How dare you score people who can balance their budget and keep their debt under control better than others. You are obviously in the tank for the rich. Romney put you up to this didn't he?

4. Hackers, viruses, anonymous, and the dreaded internet troll vote says hi. Imagine some internet troll acing the test so he gets more vote shares than the rest of us only to vote for the worst ideas for the lulz. Dick Cheney for supreme Dick-tator for !$%*!$%*!$%*!$%*!$% around aside, your idea is interesting on paper. I'm not sure I'd trust it in a practical or political sense on a large scale.
 
 
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Oct 29, 2012
I'm pretty happy with this idea in general, I've thought much the same thing myself - government could be handled online.
One thing I do think is that most people genuinely don't care about the day-to-day aspects of running a country. It's a bit much to ask them to vote on the 20/30 meaningless things that government has to decide every hour.
I'd favor delegation for this. You can delegate your vote to anyone - your son, your boss, a bloke down the pub, who can then sub-delegate as they desire. For any particular issue you can revoke your delegation and vote to your conscience. This way, votes can be gathered to a level where people can actually negotiate with each other in a meaningful way. If they negotiate against their delegate's wishes, they lose their influence immediately - not after 4 or 5 years.
There's no limit to the number of high-level delegates that can exist (no two-party system). There's no need to be forced to give your vote to the best of a bad bunch. Delegation is simply a way to continue doing your civic duty in a sustainable way.

I disagree on the need for a lack of privacy, at least in the delegation.
For delegates, I think it would be essential that they didn't know who had delegated votes to them, or exactly how many votes they had. This is to avoid people forcing their families to give their votes to them or buying people's delegations. However, we can see someone's influence in their scores "Joe represents <10 people. Alex represents ~400 people. Tina represents 200M people, etc"

Not sure if the pro-rata influence is good, but a delegation would be a good way to get your vote to count. If you only score a 0.1, but delegate to someone who counts as a full 1.0, they can vote on your behalf.

Of course, that might not work, since you're bound to find *someone* with a 1.0 in a particular subject to vote the way you want them to.

As for who'd run this and who'd write the software, I think we can do something decentralised.
Make the information public and available in a secure way, use bots to harvest this information. Decide which bot is definitive (open source software, can be examined by anyone), but check it with other bots to doubly ensure it's not going wrong.
Of course, having this information public and available may count against the privacy concerns, but we'll see.
 
 
Oct 29, 2012
There is one other reason you left out why Wikipedia did not fail. There was nothing for anyone to gain by tanking it. This is not so for your hypothetical government.
 
 
Oct 29, 2012
I'm all for it if I get to write the tests.
 
 
+4 Rank Up Rank Down
Oct 29, 2012
"This imaginary government exists only as software running on servers spread across multiple commercial sites, plus a bill of rights based on the American model. I'll add one extra right: The right to affordable high-speed Internet access."

I would like to apply for the job of administrating the whole thing.
 
 
Oct 29, 2012
@jjfoley

Thank you. I dont know why I missed this before but your post has inspired me to raise another point; minority groups have been claiming standardized testing is discriminatory in college admissions. Can you imagine the hell they'd raise if we tried implementing such a system for vote-weighing?
 
 
+3 Rank Up Rank Down
Oct 29, 2012
Friends and I were just debating this topic, as we were mournfully reading the herp-derp comments on election posts asserting woefully inaccurate things about Romney or Obama and their policies. We talked about whether there should be some sort of an education test when you vote to see if your vote was allowed to count -- maybe just take it from the citizenship test.

Then it was pointed out that "educated" does not equal "intelligent," and worse, neither of those equal "informed." You can have smart, well-educated people voting on economic issues based on parroting what they heard on Fox News / MSNBC. You can have poor heads of household who never finished high school who are quite well informed about their need for extra leniency on taxes for the lower middle class so they can better make ends meet.

So as a first step to implementing your idea, we'd need to get it in place for next November on the relatively simple matter of choosing local officials. Or the following November for voting for Congress. That'd be the first step towards abstracting the whole thing. Of course, we'd probably need to rely on the government for architecting and implementing such a project... a project to put themselves out of business. Sort of like asking the prisoner to fashion his own noose...
 
 
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Oct 29, 2012
Friends and I were just debating this topic, as we were mournfully reading the herp-derp comments on election posts asserting woefully inaccurate things about Romney or Obama and their policies. We talked about whether there should be some sort of an education test when you vote to see if your vote was allowed to count -- maybe just take it from the citizenship test.

Then it was pointed out that "educated" does not equal "intelligent," and worse, neither of those equal "informed." You can have smart, well-educated people voting on economic issues based on parroting what they heard on Fox News / MSNBC. You can have poor heads of household who never finished high school who are quite well informed about their need for extra leniency on taxes for the lower middle class so they can better make ends meet.

So as a first step to implementing your idea, we'd need to get it in place for next November on the relatively simple matter of choosing local officials. Or the following November for voting for Congress. That'd be the first step towards abstracting the whole thing. Of course, we'd probably need to rely on the government for architecting and implementing such a project... a project to put themselves out of business. Sort of like asking the prisoner to fashion his own noose...
 
 
Oct 29, 2012
A bit of an exaggeration. SOMEONE will still have to run the software, do the actual hiring and firing of the privately run police services, decide on the test questions (and BTW, how WOULD you go about doing that in a fair manner?) etc. Not to mention handling the things you cant get volunteers fro (do you really think you'll get enough volunteers for trash removal?) or dont want private companies to handle (how many folks out there want an arab-owned company running our nuclear stockpile?)

All in all, your idea contains some good elements, but is a bit too commune-ish to work in the manner you describe.
 
 
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Oct 29, 2012
I like the idea, but anything based entirely on software is susceptible to attack or hacking.

Example 1: Online voting hacked:
http://www.infosecisland.com/blogview/20626-Researchers-Successfully-Hacked-Online-Voting-System.html

Example 2: US and Israel created, then lost control of, the Stuxnet virus:
http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2012/06/confirmed-us-israel-created-stuxnet-lost-control-of-it/
 
 
 
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