Debugging democracy with network analysis

Yes, I know, it seems preposterous. And yet, the more I turn it around in my head, the more it makes sense. A few months ago I presented at TEDx Bologna, and used the opportunity to try and stitch together the pieces of my intellectual journey of the past five-six years around this issue.

The result was the video above. In a nutshell: collective intelligence is the most promising weapon we have to face the many dire problems threatening our species, and that transcend the individual scale. Climate change, feral finance, mounting inequalities; we can’t touch these (and others), because they don’t exist at the same scale as us – they emerge from the interaction of billions of us. To address these problems, it seems intuitive that we should deploy an equally emergent, same-level collective intelligence. Unfortunately, representative democracy is concocted in such a way that does not allow the emergence of solutions (in the sense that Wikipedia is an emergent solution to the problem of writing an encyclopedia) within democratic institutions. Participatory democracy could, in theory, lead to such a result, but it does not scale. To make it scale we can use the Internet. First, we design online interaction environments from which we think collective solutions might emerge; then we measure the social dynamics the these environments host and foster, as if they were coral reefs colonized by many species. I wrote “measure” because, thanks to network analysis, social interaction dynamics have become measurable, even for large communities.

Maybe, using these techniques, we’ll finally be able to make the dream of a working, large-scale participatory democracy come true. We have held on to it for twenty-five centuries! It’s certainly worth trying. And in the mean time, I would certainly like to try it on the new Edgeryders, just as it has been tried on Edgeryder 1 (see Ben and Gaia’s full report here).