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← A bold idea to replace politicians

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Showing Revision 9 created 03/05/2019 by Brian Greene.

  1. Is it just me,

  2. or are there other people here
  3. that are a little bit
    disappointed with democracy?
  4. (Applause)

  5. So let's look at a few numbers.

  6. If we look across the world,
  7. the median turnout
    in presidential elections
  8. over the last 30 years
  9. has been just 67 percent.
  10. Now, if we go to Europe
  11. and we look at people that participated
    in EU parliamentary elections,
  12. the median turnout in those elections
  13. is just 42 percent.
  14. Now let's go to New York,
  15. and let's see how many people voted
    in the last election for mayor.
  16. We will find that only
    24 percent of people showed up to vote.
  17. What that means is that,
    if "Friends" was still running,
  18. Joey and maybe Phoebe
    would have shown up to vote.
  19. (Laughter)

  20. And you cannot blame them
    because people are tired of politicians.

  21. And people are tired of other people
    using the data that they have generated
  22. to communicate with
    their friends and family,
  23. to target political propaganda at them.
  24. But the thing about this
    is that this is not new.
  25. Nowadays, people use likes
    to target propaganda at you
  26. before they use your zip code
    or your gender or your age,
  27. because the idea of targeting people
    with propaganda for political purposes
  28. is as old as politics.
  29. And the reason why that idea is there
  30. is because democracy
    has a basic vulnerability.
  31. This is the idea of a representative.
  32. In principle, democracy is the ability
    of people to exert power.

  33. But in practice, we have to delegate
    that power to a representative
  34. that can exert that power for us.
  35. That representative is a bottleneck,
  36. or a weak spot.
  37. It is the place that you want to target
    if you want to attack democracy
  38. because you can capture democracy
    by either capturing that representative
  39. or capturing the way
    that people choose it.
  40. So the big question is:
  41. Is this the end of history?
  42. Is this the best that we can do
  43. or, actually, are there alternatives?
  44. Some people have been thinking
    about alternatives,

  45. and one of the ideas that is out there
    is the idea of direct democracy.
  46. This is the idea of bypassing
    politicians completely
  47. and having people vote directly on issues,
  48. having people vote directly on bills.
  49. But this idea is naive
  50. because there's too many things
    that we would need to choose.
  51. If you look at the 114th US Congress,
  52. you will have seen that
    the House of Representatives
  53. considered more than 6,000 bills,
  54. the Senate considered
    more than 3,000 bills
  55. and they approved more than 300 laws.
  56. Those would be many decisions
  57. that each person would have to make a week
  58. on topics that they know little about.
  59. So there's a big cognitive
    bandwidth problem
  60. if we're going to try to think about
    direct democracy as a viable alternative.
  61. So some people think about the idea
    of liquid democracy, or fluid democracy,

  62. which is the idea that you endorse
    your political power to someone,
  63. who can endorse it to someone else,
  64. and, eventually, you create
    a large follower network
  65. in which, at the end, there's a few people
    that are making decisions
  66. on behalf of all of their followers
    and their followers.
  67. But this idea also doesn't solve
    the problem of the cognitive bandwidth
  68. and, to be honest, it's also quite similar
    to the idea of having a representative.
  69. So what I'm going to do today is
    I'm going to be a little bit provocative,
  70. and I'm going to ask you, well:
  71. What if, instead of trying
    to bypass politicians,
  72. we tried to automate them?
  73. The idea of automation is not new.

  74. It was started more than 300 years ago,
  75. when French weavers decided
    to automate the loom.
  76. The winner of that industrial war
    was Joseph-Marie Jacquard.
  77. He was a French weaver and merchant
  78. that married the loom
    with the steam engine
  79. to create autonomous looms.
  80. And in those autonomous looms,
    he gained control.
  81. He could now make fabrics that were
    more complex and more sophisticated
  82. than the ones they
    were able to do by hand.
  83. But also, by winning that industrial war,
  84. he laid out what has become
    the blueprint of automation.
  85. The way that we automate things
    for the last 300 years

  86. has always been the same:
  87. we first identify a need,
  88. then we create a tool
    to satisfy that need,
  89. like the loom, in this case,
  90. and then we study how people use that tool
  91. to automate that user.
  92. That's how we came
    from the mechanical loom
  93. to the autonomous loom,
  94. and that took us a thousand years.
  95. Now, it's taken us only a hundred years
  96. to use the same script
    to automate the car.
  97. But the thing is that, this time around,
  98. automation is kind of for real.
  99. This is a video that a colleague of mine
    from Toshiba shared with me

  100. that shows the factory
    that manufactures solid state drives.
  101. The entire factory is a robot.
  102. There are no humans in that factory.
  103. And the robots are soon
    to leave the factories
  104. and become part of our world,
  105. become part of our workforce.
  106. So what I do in my day job
  107. is actually create tools that integrate
    data for entire countries
  108. so that we can ultimately have
    the foundations that we need
  109. for a future in which we need
    to also manage those machines.
  110. But today, I'm not here
    to talk to you about these tools

  111. that integrate data for countries.
  112. But I'm here to talk to you
    about another idea
  113. that might help us think about how to use
    artificial intelligence in democracy.
  114. Because the tools that I build
    are designed for executive decisions.
  115. These are decisions that can be cast
    in some sort of term of objectivity --
  116. public investment decisions.
  117. But there are decisions
    that are legislative,
  118. and these decisions that are legislative
    require communication among people
  119. that have different points of view,
  120. require participation, require debate,
  121. require deliberation.
  122. And for a long time,
    we have thought that, well,
  123. what we need to improve democracy
    is actually more communication.
  124. So all of the technologies that we have
    advanced in the context of democracy,
  125. whether they are newspapers
    or whether it is social media,
  126. have tried to provide us
    with more communication.
  127. But we've been down that rabbit hole,
  128. and we know that's not
    what's going to solve the problem.
  129. Because it's not a communication problem,
  130. it's a cognitive bandwidth problem.
  131. So if the problem is one
    of cognitive bandwidth,
  132. well, adding more communication to people
  133. is not going to be
    what's going to solve it.
  134. What we are going to need instead
    is to have other technologies
  135. that help us deal with
    some of the communication
  136. that we are overloaded with.
  137. Think of, like, a little avatar,
  138. a software agent,
  139. a digital Jiminy Cricket --
  140. (Laughter)

  141. that basically is able
    to answer things on your behalf.

  142. And if we had that technology,
  143. we would be able to offload
    some of the communication
  144. and help, maybe, make better decisions
    or decisions at a larger scale.
  145. And the thing is that the idea
    of software agents is also not new.
  146. We already use them all the time.
  147. We use software agents
  148. to choose the way that we're going
    to drive to a certain location,
  149. the music that we're going to listen to
  150. or to get suggestions
    for the next books that we should read.
  151. So there is an obvious idea
    in the 21st century

  152. that was as obvious as the idea
  153. of putting together a steam engine
    with a loom at the time of Jacquard.
  154. And that idea is combining
    direct democracy with software agents.
  155. Imagine, for a second, a world
  156. in which, instead of having
    a representative that represents you
  157. and millions of other people,
  158. you can have a representative
    that represents only you,
  159. with your nuanced political views --
  160. that weird combination
    of libertarian and liberal
  161. and maybe a little bit
    conservative on some issues
  162. and maybe very progressive on others.
  163. Politicians nowadays are packages,
    and they're full of compromises.
  164. But you might have someone
    that can represent only you,
  165. if you are willing to give up the idea
  166. that that representative is a human.
  167. If that representative
    is a software agent,
  168. we could have a senate that has
    as many senators as we have citizens.
  169. And those senators are going to be able
    to read every bill
  170. and they're going to be able
    to vote on each one of them.
  171. So there's an obvious idea
    that maybe we want to consider.

  172. But I understand that in this day and age,
  173. this idea might be quite scary.
  174. In fact, thinking of a robot
    coming from the future
  175. to help us run our governments
  176. sounds terrifying.
  177. But we've been there before.
  178. (Laughter)

  179. And actually he was quite a nice guy.

  180. So what would the Jacquard loom
    version of this idea look like?

  181. It would be a very simple system.
  182. Imagine a system that you log in
    and you create your avatar,
  183. and then you're going
    to start training your avatar.
  184. So you can provide your avatar
    with your reading habits,
  185. or connect it to your social media,
  186. or you can connect it to other data,
  187. for example by taking
    psychological tests.
  188. And the nice thing about this
    is that there's no deception.
  189. You are not providing data to communicate
    with your friends and family
  190. that then gets used in a political system.
  191. You are providing data to a system
    that is designed to be used
  192. to make political decisions
    on your behalf.
  193. Then you take that data and you choose
    a training algorithm,
  194. because it's an open marketplace
  195. in which different people
    can submit different algorithms
  196. to predict how you're going to vote,
    based on the data you have provided.
  197. And the system is open,
    so nobody controls the algorithms;
  198. there are algorithms
    that become more popular
  199. and others that become less popular.
  200. Eventually, you can audit the system.
  201. You can see how your avatar is working.
  202. If you like it,
    you can leave it on autopilot.
  203. If you want to be
    a little more controlling,
  204. you can actually choose that they ask you
  205. every time they're going
    to make a decision,
  206. or you can be anywhere in between.
  207. One of the reasons
    why we use democracy so little
  208. may be because democracy
    has a very bad user interface.
  209. And if we improve the user
    interface of democracy,
  210. we might be able to use it more.
  211. Of course, there's a lot of questions
    that you might have.

  212. Well, how do you train these avatars?
  213. How do you keep the data secure?
  214. How do you keep the systems
    distributed and auditable?
  215. How about my grandmother,
    who's 80 years old
  216. and doesn't know how to use the internet?
  217. Trust me, I've heard them all.
  218. So when you think about an idea like this,
    you have to beware of pessimists
  219. because they are known to have
    a problem for every solution.
  220. (Laughter)

  221. So I want to invite you to think
    about the bigger ideas.

  222. The questions I just showed you
    are little ideas
  223. because they are questions
    about how this would not work.
  224. The big ideas are ideas of:
  225. What else can you do with this
  226. if this would happen to work?
  227. And one of those ideas is,
    well, who writes the laws?
  228. In the beginning, we could have
    the avatars that we already have,
  229. voting on laws that are written
    by the senators or politicians
  230. that we already have.
  231. But if this were to work,
  232. you could write an algorithm
  233. that could try to write a law
  234. that would get a certain
    percentage of approval,
  235. and you could reverse the process.
  236. Now, you might think that this idea
    is ludicrous and we should not do it,
  237. but you cannot deny that it's an idea
    that is only possible
  238. in a world in which direct democracy
    and software agents
  239. are a viable form of participation.
  240. So how do we start the revolution?

  241. We don't start this revolution
    with picket fences or protests
  242. or by demanding our current politicians
    to be changed into robots.
  243. That's not going to work.
  244. This is much more simple,
  245. much slower
  246. and much more humble.
  247. We start this revolution by creating
    simple systems like this in grad schools,
  248. in libraries, in nonprofits.
  249. And we try to figure out
    all of those little questions
  250. and those little problems
  251. that we're going to have to figure out
    to make this idea something viable,
  252. to make this idea something
    that we can trust.
  253. And as we create those systems that have
    a hundred people, a thousand people,
  254. a hundred thousand people voting
    in ways that are not politically binding,
  255. we're going to develop trust in this idea,
  256. the world is going to change,
  257. and those that are as little
    as my daughter is right now
  258. are going to grow up.
  259. And by the time my daughter is my age,
  260. maybe this idea, that I know
    today is very crazy,
  261. might not be crazy to her
    and to her friends.
  262. And at that point,
  263. we will be at the end of our history,
  264. but they will be
    at the beginning of theirs.
  265. Thank you.

  266. (Applause)