Future of Globalization

Part VI: Digital Upgrade of Democracy (“Digital Democracy”)

We need social systems that are able to produce better solutions to complex problems.

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Takeaways


  • Around the world, many democracies have come about as a response to revolutions and wars.
  • Social media have recently increased participatory opportunities, but they also have some drawbacks.
  • The creation of collective intelligence requires a good educational system and reliable unbiased information.

Around the world, many democracies have come about as a response to revolutions and wars. Therefore, their defining features reflect the lessons learned through history.

These features include human dignity and human rights, the respect of a private sphere (in the sense of protection from exposure or misuse and the right to be left alone).

They also include self-determination, pluralism and protection of minorities, checks and balances, the separation of powers, anonymous and equal votes, equal opportunities, transparency, fairness, legitimacy and justice.

Good education, enlightenment and empowerment of people in order to enable them to make constructive contributions to our collective future are important elements of modern societies, too.

Role of social media

Social media have recently increased participatory opportunities, but they also have some drawbacks.

They have been criticized for promoting hate speech, filter bubbles and echo chambers, polarization and extremism, fake news and disinformation, as well as the manipulation of emotions, opinions, decisions and behavior.

Against this backdrop, it has been claimed that democracy and the wisdom of crowds do not work in the digital age.

New, data-driven, technocratic ways of decision-making would be more efficient and should, hence, replace democracy, which is claimed to be an “outdated technology.”

However, we need social systems that are able to produce alternative, better and diverse solutions to the complex problems we are faced with.

In particular, what matters for the performance of economies and societies is that people can unfold their knowledge, ideas, talents and resources well.

Harnessing collective intelligence

This requires a societal framework that is oriented at increasing co-creation opportunities for all and harnessing collective intelligence.

The creation of collective intelligence requires a good educational system, reliable, unbiased information, independent search of information and solutions and diversity.

Under such conditions, the combination of several solutions creates often a better solution to a complex problem than the single best solution.

Constructive forms of massive open online deliberation (MOOD) require new kinds of participatory platforms, which allow people affected by a problem to contribute arguments, ideas and concerns to the related debate.

These contributions would have to be organized in a logical, fact-based argument graph that works out the various perspectives on a complex problem and its various implications for diverse kinds of stakeholders.

Working out integrated solutions

Artificial Intelligence could help to organize the arguments, while experienced and trusted people should moderate the process in an unbiased manner.

Once the different arguments and perspectives are clear and possible solutions have been suggested, one should start a round table with key representatives of the different perspectives to work out integrated solutions in an innovative deliberation process.

A vote by the affected people on a “best of” list of integrated solutions should then decide which of the integrated solutions fits the needs of the people in the respective region best. It should then be implemented there.

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About Dirk Helbing

Dirk Helbing is Professor of Computational Social Science at the Department of Humanities, Social and Political Sciences and affiliate of the Computer Science Department at ETH Zurich.

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