It's fair to say democracy is struggling. The lofty ideal of governance for the people by the people has suffered against the shifting reality of modern society. What was once hailed as an innovative approach to policy-making reflective of citizens' needs and wishes has failed to keep up with contemporary expectations of informed, responsive consensus. But it doesn't have to be this way — technology can help.
We are already familiar with ways in which products and brands respond to our individual needs and preferences, which some may argue is exploitative in nature. But what if we could reclaim this technology of data collection not to be sold to, and instead strengthen individual voices within politics? How might we modernize Congress to meet the expectations of today's electorate and rise to the challenges this generation faces? While bringing politics up to speed with our current tech landscape may sound like a science fiction fever dream, the pieces are very nearly there to realize an innovative new form of governance.
To imagine how this might work, picture your digital twin, or what I like to call your "Meta-Me" — an exact replica of you that lives in cyberspace. This version of you shares your thoughts (and ways of thinking), habits, preferences, behaviors, and most importantly, your values and interests. Using this data, your twin can act on your behalf, researching a new car, making reservations, organizing gatherings, or writing summary reports. In fact, you can have a multitude of twins, each one assigned to a specific task or area of your life. Unbounded by the physical world, your digital replica has near-infinite access to information and capacity for learning and doing — effectively multiplying your productivity and impact in the world. It's the ultimate personal assistant. Together, you and your twins represent a powerful multidimensional entity.
Why not devote at least one of those twins to represent your opinions and beliefs to shape the course of society? Rather than 500 human representatives, U.S. policies can be designed by 350 million Meta-Reps, working together continuously in a virtual legislature. This Meta-Us would by definition more accurately reflect the makeup and mentality of the country than any elected group could hope to match. And finally, everyone would have a direct, inalienable, and unavoidable voice in each and every decision, unhindered by the constraints of time, access, interest, and understanding.
While a Digital Congress is a far cry from our current reality, bringing a concept like the Meta-Me to life may be more attainable than you think.
Unsurprisingly, a key enabler for the Meta-Rep was pioneered by ad-tech. At its core, your digital twin is simply a sophisticated manifestation of your online profile, which advertisers have been mining, compiling, and perfecting for decades. The internet never forgets, and digital surveillance has never been more prevalent. Even more, we increasingly embrace this invasion of privacy by leading increasingly digital lives, documenting each and every moment of our existence on social media. Every link you click, post you like, and comment you make is collected and analyzed by brands to drive engagement and user behavior. And even this analysis is improving, delivering progressively more sophisticated hyper-personalized experiences on each platform we touch. While advertisers use your data for their selfish benefit, this concept envisions a world where information collected is instead employed in your favor.
This is all compounded by ubiquitous computing and the power of a digitally connected world. Not only do each of us have a digital twin, every place we visit, event we experience, and product we use also has an online replica. This means that access and depth of information about our daily lives has never been more complete. Our Meta-Rep could devote its existence to educating itself on governance, understanding legislative proposals and possibilities, researching current events and implications, and speculating on potential solutions before voting on the best path forward — from your point-of-view, if you also possessed infinite wisdom and energy. Sources are scored not only on individual preference, but also on collective credibility; if the Meta-Rep personifies the best version of ourselves, the Meta-Us represents the most informed opinion on how we progress as a society.
The true difference between a digital twin and a digital profile is decisive action, so for this to truly work, we turn to innovations in artificial intelligence. Web crawlers are ancient tech by this point, but can serve as a useful way to monitor relevant topics for updates and new information. Machine learning provides a programmatic foundation for the Meta-Rep to learn and grow as new resources become available, and bots and agents provide the twin with directives to act on that information through advocating, negotiating, and voting. Together these technologies bring to life an individual's ideals as actionable policy.
The last essential piece is traceability. To create a transparent platform that citizens can trust, we take inspiration from blockchain. As Meta-Reps collaborate and perform their legislative duties, individual actions are recorded securely and anonymously in a public ledger powered by this technology. Individuals can personally review their Meta-Rep's decisions and make adjustments to its algorithm to ensure their values are accurately represented. And anyone in society can audit the legislative log to validate that decisions are appropriately made free of undue influence.
In the near-term, your digital twin acts as an advisor, helping you follow and understand those policy issues most important to you, and informing your civic engagement — the TLDR of legislative movements locally, nationally, and globally. At this critical stage, your twin learns and evolves by observing your direct responses to its suggestions. As adoption grows and technology matures, the twin is elevated to advocate — virtually campaigning on your behalf policy positions to amplify your voice in the halls of government. This role augments direct election, polling, and public support to ensure citizens have a greater influence on legislative decision-making. Digital advocates can edit, comment, and promote bills alongside human counterparts to promote balance and fairness. In the ideal state, your digital twin replaces existing human representatives completely, forming a virtual Congress — writing & enacting policies that perfectly match the values of its population.
Technology is certainly not our only challenge. Even with a working product, there are many institutional and systemic hurdles we might undoubtedly face to implement such a solution. But it's clear to pundits and politicians alike that our current approach is untenable, and incapable of meeting the uncertainties we face in the coming decade. The only way we can progress as a global society is by rethinking representation and cooperation to give everyone a voice. Let's work together as designers, technologists, thinkers, and philosophers to create a more inclusive democracy that shifts power away from the select few toward the citizens themselves — artificially represented by 350 million algorithms always connected, immune to influence, and perfectly aligned to the values and beliefs of each and every individual.
- How can this concept be improved and executed?
- What steps should we take immediately to get started?
- What additional ways might we preserve and improve our democracy using technology?
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